So one of my coworkers rang me up and convinced me to come with him to hear about some business proposal project thing with as-yet unspecified details. As the weekend approached I finalised the plans with him: He would pick me up from my flat on Sunday at around 11, and then we would go out to Burwood to hear about this thing. "Why so early?" I asked, as he'd originally said it was in the afternoon. "To get good seats" he replied. This set off my bullshit-sense, giving me a mental image of some charismatic guy trying to convince a hall full of people to buy his book. That and my coworkers' readiness to give me a lift rather than leaving me to find my own way there, which struck me as slightly suspicious. But hey, I thought, maybe this project is just really important or well-backed or something, or maybe he just gets a headhunter's fee for getting me in.
Sunday dawned cold and miserable and 11am came and went and I started to wonder whether I was waiting for nothing. At 12:30 I finally got a call from my coworker Monkey, that he was downstairs. On opening the car door the aroma of stale sweat enveloped me. Eugh. And so we set off for a long drive to Burwood. Along the way we talked of course, mostly about our religions and the differences and similarities between them (he's a Muslim), and about whether the holy books contain literal truth or not. Turns out he doesn't believe in "that monkey nonsense" as he calls it, but the reason for this soon became apparent when I tried to explain why I don't believe in the Garden of Eden story.
Me : "You don't marry your sister right?"
Monkey : "Of course not"
Me : "Do you know why?"
Monkey : "Because she's my sister!"
Me : *sigh*
Me : "ok, if you marry your sister or your first cousin your babies will be born sick and die. That's why no one does it"
Monkey : *is enlightened*
Yup, turns out he has no understanding of basic genetics and breeding. So it does sort of make sense that evolution would seem silly to him. And my explanation is massively simplified because we were working through a language barrier. By now I've reached the point where 90% of the time I can word things so that my Indian coworkers understand me the first time, although it means I have to lose a lot of the more complex parts of what I want to say.
Anyway, after what seems like forever (and lots of us going "oh crap we're going to be so late!") we arrive at the place. It's a crappy little back room that can comfortably hold about 30 people. I would estimate about twice that were crammed in. My first impression was of being the only white person in this SEA of dark-skinned Indians. My second impression encompassed the little Indian guy up the front delivering the motivational style speech, and made all my internal alarm bells start ringing.
We'd gotten there rather late after all and after about 20 minutes we had a short break before the next part of the afternoon began. I immediately turned to Monkey and asked him whether he knew what a pyramid scheme was. His first answer was "how do you know what a pyramid is? I didn't hear about it before I came here". His second answer was "this isn't one though" And then he went and found the guy who recruited him originally to try to explain to me why it's not a pyramid scheme.
His reasons went something like this:
- Pyramid schemes are illegal so this must not a pyramid scheme
- This company has lots of high-powered lawyers who would make sure this wasn't a pyramid scheme since otherwise they would get shut down
- I asked them the same thing and they showed me some financial statements or somesuch that proved to me that it wasn't
I then asked him the name of the company and he refused to give it to me because he realised I would want to Google it as soon as I got home, but he would be happy to give it to me on some subsequent occasion. We then went back in for the second part of the afternoon, wherein the motivational speaker guy explained how you can grow your business and get money.
Basically the way the business works is that you have this catalogue thing, kind of like an online supermarket or something. So you order from this at the beginning of every month and of course you pay money for the goods but they're probably cheaper than what you can get locally anyway so that's alright. Now for every product you buy you get a little bit of money back, and for every product you convince someone else to order you get a little bit of money too. So ideally you need to get other people to buy into this whole business thing, because you're growing your network of people you're selling to and at the same time everyone you convinced to also sign on is growing their networks too, and if you're successful enough at convincing others to sign on then eventually you're getting more money back than you're spending. Of course this is highly dependent on your being an excellent salesperson and being able to convince enough other people to sign on to the not-quite-pyramid. And yes, I don't think it's quite a pyramid. It's central mechanism is pretty much identical but my instincts tell me that this one isn't quite so bad a deal for the people down the bottom. All you need is to be an awesome salesperson. Which just goes to show how bad a choice Monkey made when he tried to recruit me, since I couldn't persuade my way out of a wet paper bag.
Another difference I found in this scheme was that it didn't promise easy money. It actually advocates staying at your current job/career path indefinitely while you work on this business thing on the side, and they warned that you won't be getting much in the way of income from the business for the first few years. But now we get onto the other, and possibly even more insidious part of the business. They understand that not everyone is a born salesperson and yet they still want to try this business thing and get money. How to help them? Why, hold training sessions for sales and leadership skills of course!
So now we have a room full of people from almost identical backgrounds, who have invested into this long-term plan that promises incomes of up to 250k but not straight away, and attending these training sessions several times a week where they learn people skills from this charismatic guy. See what I'm getting at? It all feels very cultish to me, anyway. And Monkey has already invested himself into it. He says that at the moment his life pretty much just consists of working at Coles and coming to this place to learn how to grow his business.
After this realisation I decided I'd had enough. Monkey and I slipped out and he drove me home, complete with Dominos pizza, and more discussions about religion. Actually, I haven't done his views on religion enough justice yet. He believes that almost all religions are the same at their heart, ie they all preach more or less the same values. "What about Buddhism? They don't believe in God" I said, heading for the obvious weak spot in his theory. "Well, they have it half right. The Quran says "There are no gods. You shall have no other gods but me", right? They have the first part right, now they just need to add the other part to believe the same thing as me." I had no good reply to that, or if I did I lost it in my subsequent laughter. He also believes that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all had stints as the chosen of God throughout history. Every time the Jews got chucked out of Israel it was because they did something wrong, and every time they were allowed to return it's because they did something right. The Muslims had their Golden Age sometime around the 12th century (I could be very very wrong with the time here..) but then they did something wrong and the Christians were chosen, leading the Crusades to take control of Jerusalem. And so on. It's an interesting theory at any rate, and much more broadminded than I expected to hear out of a semi-practising Muslim. And there's more still but I've run out of time and I've gone on too long, so the rest of his theories will have to remain unaired on this blog.