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Saturday, December 11, 2010

MLMs as a cult

Image credit: "How they Change your Mind" web site.

Are MLMs cults? We have the idea of cults as nutty folks who believe in the end of the world, UFOs, the end of the world by UFOs, and similar things. But in reality what makes a cult a cult is not so much what it believes, but its social structure and the interplay between members and leaders.

"Weird" beliefs alone are neither necessary nor sufficient to make a group a cult. E.g., Christian dogma might seem extremely odd to (say) Zen Buddhists and vice versa, but that in itself doesn't mean either Christianity or Buddhism are cults. On the other hand, groups that have core beliefs that are, in themselves, not necessarily odd, are sometimes cultic.

One often-ignore field of cultic behavior is that of economic cults. As a very informative web site notes, Amway in particular (and many MLMs) are cultic. The include thought control, dividing the world into "us" (in the MLM) and "them (all those who are not part of the MLM world), special jargon, etc. The point is to seperate the member from the world, so that he can be better exploited by the cult's leaders, in this case, the upline.

An example of what can happens when MLMs become a cult, as they often do, is found in the article "Shaking the Money Tree" by Amy Mills.

To be fair, certainly not all MLMs are cults; e.g., Avon or Tupperware are not, as -- however silly they might be as a way to make money -- they at least concentrate on actually selling products and do not require the seller to turn over their lives to the corporation. But it is a significant risk one should consider before one joins an MLM, in addition to the economic unfeasability of it.

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4 Comments:

At December 17, 2010 at 10:51 AM , Blogger Tom said...

There is a long history of "cults" that lead the members into expensive services and products; and in the case of doomsday or suicide cults, what we have are mind-controlling leaders that tell members that they have a corner on the truth, that God speaks through them.

First step: create anxiety in potential members through promoting feelings of inadequacy, guilt, lack of health, not fitting into society. Next, provide the antidote for the desperate, the gullible, the anxious or those who are searching for meaning in their otherwise frustrating and purposeless existences. Reinforce membership or "set the hook" by positive feedback from other cult members as the recruit considers whether the program is for him/her. Punish "rebellious" members as an example for what happens to such (bad) people.

Behavior psychologists know the tools of human manipulation, sex, love, greed, appetite, the afterlife, family dynamics and so forth. What works? What has "worked" before. Just recycle the old propaganda, repackage it, and then sell it in new and slick garb. Economics are a powerful tool--the worst cults have tried to get members to make a 100% financial commitment so they are defenseless and entirely dependent on the cult.

In a sense the word "cult" is just another four letter word--vague and stigmatizing, when other words would probably do better to flesh out the specific character of the sect, business, or group. Family, friends and economic and legal defense remain significant bulwarks against inherantly manipulative and destructive mind controlling groups that fear public shame and exposure, but above all law enforcement which often waits for years to build its case based on verifiable fraud and substantial injuries to complaining parties.

 
At December 17, 2010 at 1:14 PM , Blogger Avital Pilpel said...

Thank you, Tom -- very informative. I agree with you that "cult" can be stigmatizing (as in, "every religion except for mine is a cult"). But I think I make it clear what I mean by the term here. It is not an insult, it's a diagnosis, in Amway's (and some other MLMs') case.

 
At March 27, 2011 at 9:16 AM , Blogger DaveH said...

Another aspect of cultish behavior is "defensively programming" their victims: If you try to explain that they're getting rooked, they're liable to tell you that well, maybe "a rich guy like you" (hmmph, I wish) can afford to sneer at their business, but they need the money. Seen it up close, twice, both from people who really could have made a living from their established skills.

Similarly, they try to isolate their victims from anyone who might "rescue" them, by dismissing any such folks as "nattering nabobs of negativity" (remember that scam? ;-)) who are liable to interfere with the victim's otherwise-certain chance to get RichRichRich!

 
At June 9, 2013 at 1:24 AM , Blogger webseosites.eu said...

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