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By default, any network marketing upline is a Machiavellian, because as long as you have joined (and bought a starter kit), your upline will have benefited. Whether you benefit from joining is completely irrelevant.
However, as in most cases, manipulation can be for good... or evil. Machiavelli himself was often portrayed as amoral manipulator, but that would be simplifying the issues too far into black and white. He was advocating the rulers to get things done, through manipulation if need be.
Think about it. Aren't modern laws trying to "push" you into behaving a certain way? Like the various "sin tax" on things like cigarettes and alcohol?
But in general governments don't enact laws to be evil. Scammers do. Let's assume for now we are talking about the EVIL machiavellians only.
Machiavellianism (manipulate others for one's own gain), along with Narcissism (extremely self-centered), and Psychopathy (have no empathy), are known as the "dark triad" of personality traits.
Origin of Machiavellianism in Scams
How do uplines "go bad"? Generally, it's because they were taught that way. Instead of learning how to sell (i.e marketing), they were taught "ass backwards" to emphasize the network instead. Apparently they were taught that as long as everybody they recruit (into the network) buy a 'starter kit' that counts as "sales".
But it's not sales. There were no sales to real customers. All sales are to affiliates / recruits.
And they will instill the SAME (and WRONG) attitude onto their downlines.
Chinese has a term for this: 層壓式傳銷 which literally means "level pressure style marketing", though commonly translated as "pyramid selling". The closest term in the West is "product-based pyramid scheme", where products are barely sold outside the network, but are mostly consumed within, but with money moving from the bottom up. At certain angles, this indeed resembles network marketing, but the key difference is in network marketing, the overall goal is to sell products to customers OUTSIDE the company. There are people outside, NOT affiliates, that are actively using the products, and people are selling to those customers. Product-based pyramid scheme, on the other hand, sells to its own affiliates, with little to no sales to outside customers. Some are known to claim to give away stocks or "points" that can be traded for stocks later... if you buy up a lot more products.
One such scheme in China went after the elderly, by telling them the company will do initial public offering (IPO) soon, must bring up sales figures, must look good, so IPO can go smoothly, and encouraged the affiliates / customers to buy up even more products (most of which are vastly overpriced) for the "virgin stocks" which supposedly can be traded for real stocks if IPO goes through. It never did, and the company was busted as pyramid selling. The seniors were manipulated into joining, with fraudulent product claims and income potentials, then with various manipulations to buy up even more stuff that they don't need. The same scenario was repeated last year, when another company was busted in Hong Kong, this time claiming that this US-based company is going to be very big if people buy up their "Internet Comm Suite" for 24000 HKD (about 3000 USD) a year to accumulate "points" to be traded for stock later, and company will buy back the stock for huge riches.
Both pyramid selling cases relied on people who have little understanding of IPO and stock market. But the same idea can be applied to almost any sort of potential profit. And it always involve the same 3 steps.
A machiavellian's "modus operandi" has 3 steps:
Deception -- isolation from reality
A scammer will start to gain influence over you by providing you with false information. It will be false, but it will be plausible. They will also neglect to mention other pieces of information you need to make a properly informed decision.
Scammer will make every effort to discourage you from verifying that information, often by claiming some sort of "secret arrangement" (it's a secret!), time pressure (limited time offer! choose now!), "don't you trust me?", and other manipulation. Or they can have fake proof in place, often involving actors and insiders.
Sometimes, they will also engage in fearmongering, such as raising a non-existent issue and tell you it's going to be the worst thing ever and you have to do something about it. Scams pushing some sort of financial investment will often start with various claims that the world currency will fail and recession is only the prelude and so on and so forth. And somehow THEIR product is immune to all that.
The overall effect is you do not have enough information to make a proper informed decision, but instead, are led to make the wrong decision (such as to trust the scammer).
This step goes hand-in-hand with manipulation.
Manipulation -- distortion of reality
Once the scammer have you exposed to the deception, they will manipulate you into accepting that as your reality, and attempt to further mold your sense of reality to suit their needs for the final step of exploitation.
Manipulation and deception often goes hand-in-hand, with both working in synergy to enhance the overall effectiveness. Attempt to make a scam look legitimate would often involve fake websites, deceptive videos, bogus and shill testimonials, manufactured social proof, and more. All of which are deceptions used as manipulations, or to reinforce other deceptions.
Many ponzi meetings featured actors portraying bankers or government officials proclaiming the fake investments are 100% legal and profitable, to the investors. Others misrepresent their scheme by cutting up and editing footage of famous people or mangling the quotes and wrote it in a way that make it seem they support the scheme. Everybody famous from President Obama to Warren Buffet have been used in one sort of deceptive pitch to another.
Ultimate goal is to exploit the victim.
Exploitation -- gaining from your altered reality
In various investment scams, this would culminate with the victim handing over money. However, there are many other ways a scammer can gain from having manipulated you.
a) reload scam -- since you fell for one scam, you're now on a 'sucker list', which is sold to other scammers who will pitch you for yet more scams.
b) upsell -- since they got a foot in your door, you will probably listen to them trying to entice you into putting even MORE money into the scheme, or perhaps, "roll over" your money when the investment matures.
c) judas goat -- you are enticed into advertising the scam for them, so they don't have to scam... you will scam for them, except you don't know it's a scam, so you're 100% sincere.. sincere and gullible. They are not using their reputation and skills to sell... they are using YOURS.
People who are exploiting you often appear to be helpful, but are carefully concealing certain facts while spreading certain falsehoods to manipulate you into making a decision that is beneficial to them. Unless you enjoy being manipulated, learn how to spot Machiavellians around you.