Re: Victor Baranco, Lafayette Morehouse
Date: November 22, 2008 03:14AM
In about 1980 or 1981, I spent about three months as a "student" at More U in Oakland, at their big purple house at 69 Hamilton Street (I don't know if they still have it) they used as a purgatory for "waywards" who hadn't behaved according to their rules at Lafayette, or who had simply displeased Victor Baranco. I also visited their Lafayette location once, possibly twice, and people who lived at Lafayette visited the Oakland house occasionally, but not often. I never met Victor Baranco or his wife. My memory on the specific year I was there is hazy, since I didn't like them well enough to take the time to remember the year accurately. I know nothing of their activities after that point, but the description of More U in Anticult's post, citing the 1994 article by K.L Billingsley, was very accurate, since that's how they were even in 1980. I'm somewhat surprised that, as of the time of Billingsley's article, 1994, they were still holding the same classes on the same topics, using the same terminology, and I'm even more surprised they're still doing things largely the same way (maybe now without the oppressive hand of Victor Baranco--don't know what kind of control his wife currently wields over members), but I guess they found a format that was still working well enough for them; or, they were/are stagnant, or both.
My 1980 impression of More U, was that it was run by a bunch of opportunistic libertines, people who genuinely liked sex (within the bounds of many rules, some of which struck me as somewhat naïve, limited, unnecessary, obtrusive, goofy, etc. at times), wanted other people to like sex (but within their mindset of what sex entailed, both physically and mentally), wanted to teach some sex techniques that, among other things, involved respecting the needs of one's partners, clear communication, were sometimes playful, etc.--but they also wanted some not-small amount of control over member's minds and time, wanted to charge exorbitant amounts of money for some of their classes, institutionalized theft and lying (in fact, they taught a course in theft--"steal something from a friend, and see how long it takes for them to notice"; they stole a number of things from me, and denied it even when I presented proof; I later learned they had some kind of formal recognition of the old "possession is nine-tenths of the law" concept), used various obnoxious techniques to keep people in line, including restricting privileges, ridicule, etc., and too often had a generally unpleasant, intrusive, fascist, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, and paranoid streak, while trying to put a happy face on it. I was once asked, only half-humorously, by the head of the household if I was a "spy", which puzzled me at the time--I'd just decided to check them out since I'd read about them in Playboy some years prior, and I couldn't imagine at the time who might want to spy on them. I think the "spy" suspicion came from their not being able to figure out why I held back to some degree, instead of immediately buying their line.
I was dismayed at the way in which the More U people hung on Victor's every word, walking on tiptoe to avoid displeasing him in the slightest way (which, from what I heard, could literally mean bringing him a glass the "wrong" color), which could mean temporary banishment from Lafayette to the Oakland purgatory. Maybe things are more reasonable now at Lafayette, now that Victor has died.
I never saw any evidence of violence, BDSM, child pornography, etc., but then again, I spent only part of a day or two at Lafayette, and the Oakland house was somewhat open to the public. But BDSM and violence were definitely not part of More U's curriculum at the time, and I suspect not even any "higher-level" curriculum, though apparently that's changed, at least at one offshoot, as Anticult points out. I wouldn't be surprised if individual members practiced some BDSM in private, but it wasn't part of the general culture of the organization. But as far as power/control/dominance/submission issues go, it was always clear that if you wanted to be a member of More U (as opposed to someone who just took a few classes and left), that you were expected to kowtow to their power structure, so power/control issues existed apart from sexual practices. One of the organization's genuine goals was to create common sexual ground amongst its members, but that didn't extend into total control--I saw people whose sexuality involved shyness in some, lascivious in others, businesslike attitudes in others--you name it--without an attempt at whittling down these differences, except as they might have interfered with free expression, loyalty to Victor, trying to "stand out" too much (perceived as a potential threat to the power structure?), etc. I did see one woman living in the Oakland house treated in a somewhat demeaning fashion, but it seemed to go no farther than to treat her as a kind of black sheep for some kind of past misbehavior, for which she could redeem herself by not being so "willful" (which struck me as meaning she had a few ideas of her own). She and the others sometimes had a sense of humor about it.
The higher-ups I met, felt obligated to live by the same rules as anyone else in the organization--I remember stumbling on two of them engaging in "dutiful" mutual stimulation, performed in a fashion I could recognize as being what everyone was expected to do. So hypocrisy wasn't the general rule, though I don't know how far up that extended.
I can confirm one of Baranco's original goals really does seem to have been to extend the female orgasm, since that came up now and then. A house meeting at which two women, I think from Lafayette, attended, was partly intended to use these two women as an example of what women could do for themselves--keep themselves in a state of sexual stimulation for extended periods of time, without actually masturbating physically. As they sat on chairs in front of the house group, they said they were experiencing orgasm. How they managed that, they didn't say--I gathered you had to spend more money to find out. One woman I was involved with, preferred to be stimulated for quite some time, to the point of making my arm sore. I don't remember the same courtesy being extended to the men, but maybe I didn't ask properly. At one point while living at the Oakland house, the house leader felt (or Victor may have decided) that some people in the house (including me) weren't having enough sex, and so the "bare minimum" was laid down--the people living there had to experience at least one orgasm a week. If they didn't have a sex partner, then they'd have to agree to a "monitored cum", which of course meant someone watching while you masturbated. That one didn't go over entirely well, and didn't last, since regardless of the "sex commune" aspect, not everyone could always consistently get someone else to consent to sex even once a week, and few people wanted to masturbate while someone watched.
As to the "More Philosophy" that "people are right the way they are"--nope, they didn't believe that. They believed in trying to mold people to their way of seeing things. And their interest in sex, though seemingly sincere, wasn't just to "bring it out into the open"--it was also used as bait to get more new people to take classes, in order for the house to make money, and more workers for their point of view, and possibly to get new people to give More U even more money and property beyond the class fees. Granted, sex and classes on it, was their openly avowed vocation, so this is understandable to a certain extent. But the mention of "anti-materialism" in the Wikipedia entry for "Lafayette Morehouse" is laughable--it means you give your money and possessions to the group, and by extension to Victor Baranco, or whoever runs the outfit now. Often they were busy and organized at attending to all of this, and occasionally they were disorganized and lazy--it varied, as with most other people. The whole organization had a whiff of the indoctrination shenanigans in "Fight Club", but with sex substituting for the fight--not entirely better, since they were still intent on indoctrinating people. When I was there, they had a large and semi-consistent set of beliefs, which sometimes seemed semi-reasonable, but still with so many self-serving inconsistencies and lack of desire to be in touch with facts, that I had to leave. The parting was mutual. Overall, they struck me as a wannabe est (but with only faint whiffs of Scientology--thank god no e-meters, engrams, or Zenu), but since some small amount of sense regarding sex and even affection was included in their belief system, that seemed to soften them, and might have been part of the reason they didn't mount a stronger effort to hoodwink more people. As for "responsible hedonism", they always seemed to be caught between the desire to be responsible, and the desire to break free of responsibilities, never really pinning down successfully the balance of what "straight" responsibilities were really appropriate to retain, and which were unnecessary cultural baggage, and so they sometimes veered into behavior that any sane person would see as irresponsible, if not worse.
I met a few genuinely intelligent, empathetic, and idealistic people at More U; I think some of them dated close to More's establishment. The character of these individuals always seemed to be a bad fit to the rest of the organization, giving me the impression that Victor Baranco had it more together in the organization's early days, and that the paranoia, weirdness, games, etc. set in some time after that, but some of the old-timers had stuck around. I know some (most?) of them admired much about him, but maybe they're easier-going now that he's gone.
I also got the impression, in my brief time there, that More U classes run by people not under the direct gaze of Baranco, in other parts of California and in other states, stood a better chance of sticking to Baranco's basic ideas, and not becoming too fascist (though any amount of that's not good). I decided the best thing to do, for anyone who was interested, was to take a few of the lower-cost classes, and then leave, so as not to become part of Baranco's organization, and to allow them to retain and grow their abilities to live in the "real world", but with their alternative ideas, so that they could hold other beliefs not sanctioned by Baranco.
Their nonprofit branch, Turn On To America, seemed to be a genuine effort to gather food, etc. and give it to the needy--they seemed genuinely happy to be doing this. They also used some of the food, etc. they got from TOTA, themselves, but from what I could see, only a relatively small amount of it, though I have no real way of knowing how they divided things up. But as Anticult says, "It's good PR, it's good recruiting, it makes them feel good. They get great tax-benefits, as Vic Baranco knew, which he exploited as detailed above."
The term "mark groups" always annoyed me, and I think that's part of the reason they use the name--it's an "in" joke that they can immediately share with you, and also makes them seem honest, by "admitting" they're treating new people as marks. But it's really a case of hiding something tacky (or worse) in plain sight.
Though I didn't see some of the more sleazy things at More U, etc. that some people have seen (what I saw was sleazy enough), I wouldn't put it past them. I also became suspicious (maybe or maybe not rightly so) as to the reasons for their emphasis on orgasm--was it a genuine, but misguided infatuation with orgasm, or merely a ploy to gain more marks, or was it for something sinister? I don't know, but the overall atmosphere at times was way too orgasm-centric, as if they were trying to turn the human race into bonobo monkeys without thinking through whether that was a good idea.
On the whole, my three-month exposure to More U brought me into general agreement with what Anticult says: "It can be a very dangerous and toxic brew to mix money profit-making, with cultic recruiting methods, LGAT's, live-in sex communes for profit, deceptive advertising, videotaping, unlicensed sex therapy, BDSM, and all the rest of it." I wouldn't begrudge anyone a strong interest in sex, and in trying to work out good communication, but not when it's being sold by a group that's saddled with so much nonsense too. Believe me, they are NOT some free-love group that you can simply join and experience things as you hope them to be--you'll be expected to adhere to a new, strict, fairly large, and often sleazy set of beliefs, or you won't be allowed to be part of it. Or at least that's how it was in 1980, and it seems there's still a lot of that involved. When I first entered More U, I wanted to remain a part of the larger world, while still being part of More, but they didn't like that--they preferred their members to be insular, apart from the world, making forays into it to gather more marks--so I chose the larger world instead of their subset of it, even though they'd like to claim the larger world was lesser than their world. So they'd like to believe.