(I apologize in advance if my bluntness offends you. I’ll buy you a beer sometime.)
So last week I got to talking with one of my neighbors, who had me listen to a sales pitch of his and critique him. I gave him some simple advice about being a more sympathetic listener, but somehow this caused him to bubble over with praise for my intelligence and keen mind. He said he wanted to get to know me more and gave me some tickets for an event related to his company, ACN.
Now, I’m not typically swayed by flattery. When people have great things to say about me, they often have an ulterior motive. I’ve also encountered people who were dazzled by my intellect simply because they just weren’t that bright. This time, I might have been swayed a little. I thought hanging out with a new friend might be worthwhile, and it seemed like he was crafting himself into my protege, which would have been interesting. I was also intrigued by this company’s expansion into Japan as a job prospect.
Of course, there ended up being an ulterior motive. It turns out that ACN is a multi-level marketing company. MLM companies build chains of sales reps to gain a wide distribution base without spending on advertising. The business model itself is not unethical as long as the end result is a product that is sold to provide the bulk of the revenue for the company. However, people are greedy. It is so much easier to gain money directly from new recruits paying fees or buying product that this almost always ends up being the primary goal, meaning most MLM companies are just legal pyramid schemes. My neighbor was, of course, trying to recruit me as a step towards constructing a pyramid of hapless recruits under him that would pump money his way.
At this point you can tell I ended up turning my back on this “opportunity” to do business in Japan. However, I did enter the event with an open mind. I’ve encountered a few MLM sales reps that didn’t strike me as slimy, and whose products seemed reasonable. ACN seems to offer quality products related to telecommunications and utilities, and I entered the event not knowing much about it, thinking I might be able to learn something. All I learned were a bunch of fabulous reasons I should join them.
One of the first things I noticed was the atmosphere of greed pulsing through the room. Everything was focused on money. People were entranced. They all looked like they had little schemes going in their heads. As I watched the way people responded to the speakers on stage, nodding, agreeing, and shouting praise, it struck me suddenly that this event was a sermon, and the company a religion. The resemblance was uncanny. The goal of a religion is to gain followers, and the promise is that if you have faith and believe, there will be heaven waiting at the end. All religions have intricate scaffolds of justification for your belief, and usually claim theirs is the one true religion, the others just pretenders. As I sat there in the seething crowd, I saw precisely these things presented before me. There was a lot there to build your belief, and very little to explain what to do with it besides a contract that signed away $499 of your money.
It’s things like this that make me proud to be an atheist. The religious are always trying to sell us something that sounds great even though it seems ridiculous, and we diligent atheists must make sure we see through it all. So, this was nothing new for me, and I’m moving on. Others at the ACN event weren’t so lucky. Many of them were accustomed to faith, and so believing would have felt natural and good to them. A lot of people have been converted, and they will go forth to spread the good word.
As for me, I’m back at home looking for a non-pyramid job. I still might hang out with my neighbor again sometime, assuming he was interested in me as something more than a potential recruit. I’m curious to see how his faith plays out. The problem with his MLM church is that he’s still going to be alive once it turns out heaven doesn’t really exist.