Sunday, March 29, 2015

MLM Basics: Critical Thinking for MLMers -- Errors in Perspective

Previously MLMSkeptic have pointed out various reasoning problems of many participants in MLM, but someone pointed out why don't I have a guide on what *should* be done instead?

So here's the effort, called it "How not to argue for MLM" series. You can also think of it as "Critical Thinking for MLMers".

Many of these have been covered previously as "Bad Arguments".

There are many kinds of errors in your thinking process. As the old saying goes, "To err is human." However, one must learn from the errors to improve oneself. Today, we will discuss "Errors In Perspective".

What is Errors in Perspective?

Errors in perspective basically means you have a biased perspective of the world; you don't see the world as it really is, but only as you saw it. It's as if you've been wearing a bad set of tinted glasses all your life that you didn't even know it was there. And that's why they are very dangerous for you to think critically... You may *think* you are doing so, but you're doing it from the wrong perspective / viewpoint.

If you are not in MLM, keep in mind that many MLMers will accuse you of having the wrong perspective, with bad argument such as "unless you're in it you don't have the right perspective" (i.e. "you have to try it to know it / criticize it")

There are many different types of errors in perspectives.

Unwarranted Assumptions

One of the hardest errors in perspective to detect are unwarranted assumptions, because they are usually implied, rather than stated outright, and thus, you almost have to read between the lines to see them. A lot of "folks wisdom" or "commonly held facts" are actually unwarranted assumptions.

Not all assumptions are unwarranted, as you can't live a life without some assumptions, like the guy you pass on the sidewalk is not going to jump up and stab you, or your car will start in the morning, and so on. You may be wrong sometimes, but most assumptions you made every day are based on your knowledge or experiences. It is when you assume too much, more than justifiable by the circumstances or experiences, that you get unwarranted assumptions.

One of the most frequent unwarranted assumption held by victims of scams is "because Scheme X paid someone, therefore Scheme X will pay me (in the future)." When you think about it, this is basically "the sun will come up tomorrow" assumption. It makes sense for the sun, but it makes no sense for Scheme X, no matter how good / honest / rich Scheme X appears to be.  Furthermore, pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes always pay a few people and make them "judas goats" to draw other people in. Some people (even you) getting paid does not prove everybody will continue to get paid indefinitely.

So how do you stop making unwarranted assumptions? First you have to FIND the unstated assumptions, THEN you have to logic check them to determine if they are warranted or not.

Black and White Thinking 

Also known as "Either-Or Outlook", "all-or-nothing thinking", "polarized thinking", or "Splitting", it's best summarized by the old cliche: "either you're with me or you're against me". It is a total refusal to consider the nuances, the gray areas, the exceptions, and so on. Everything is either all good, or all bad, with no inbetweens.

A common "bad argument" of black and white thinking is believing that the scheme is either "all good" (or all bad), and there are no inbetweens. One example of such would be arguing that a scheme is either a Ponzi scheme or a pyramid scheme, when it can easily have aspects of both, being a ponzi/pyramid hybrid scheme.

Most schemes have multiple aspects to consider: Is it legal? Is it profitable? How much do you have to work? When can a profit be realized? And so on. A scheme can be legal but unprofitable unless you invest several years full time, for example, or a scheme can be illegal but profitable within days, or anywhere in between. Furthermore, are there any social costs or other costs to the scheme? Thus, arguing a scheme is "profitable therefore good" can be black and white thinking.

Psychologists pointed out that both borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder use black and white thinking as a defense mechanism. Any one who is found to be "acceptable" are adored as idol, and any one who was not acceptable must therefore be the devil incarnate. There are no inbetweens.

So how do you stop black and white thinking? Consider the gray areas between the two extremes. The "best" answer may lie between the two positions or unexplored third alternative, and so o on, and the only way to know is to test the various possibilities in between.

Mindless Conformity / Mob Effect

Mindless conformity is best characterized as "being sheeple", or "everybody else is doing it", or perhaps, fear-of-missing-out, aka FOMO, and sometimes, "Semmelweis Reflex". Basically, you "conformed" even when there's no reasonable explanation to do so. Remember the very very old commercial: "Why ask why? Try Bud Dry."  Yep, you're being asked to mindlessly conform.

Ignaz Semmelweis had discovered germs back in the 1800's. You never heard much about him because he called them 'cadaverous particles" and his knowledge was rejected outright by the contemporary community. The Semmelweis Reflex was named after him for "reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs, or paradigms".

Network Marketing often use this conforming effect to devastating effect, mainly by going after friends and family, and once friends and family adopted, it spreads throughout the community until the few holdouts feel the peer pressure to conform.

Scams also do the same. Ponzi schemes often spread within a particular community. TelexFree ponzi scheme, for example, is primarily spread through the Brazilian-American community around the Massachusetts area, and from there it spread back to Brazil, then to Portuguese speaking communities around the world.

If your "leaders" or peers don't want to answer "why", or their reasons make no sense, you may have been asked to mindlessly conform.

The way to avoid mindless conformity is to make sure you are being reasonable, no matter "which side" your opinion is on. Only accept ideas that you personally judged to be reasonable, not because your peers or leaders dictated them to you.

Absolutism / Universalism

Absolutists believe there are no exceptions. Everything is clear-cut, certain, and simple. The real world is nothing like that, so absolutists often sound like obstinate fools who refuse to accept reality, and often simply UNWILLING to accept evidence that goes against them.

Many believers of a scheme adopt absolutism, with "Scheme X = Good" being the absolute truth (and leader if the scheme is an idol and can do no wrong), and any facts you present that cast doubt upon that "truth" is discarded as unimportant or irrelevant. This is very close to black and white thinking, but the difference is any other arguments, exceptions, and so on, are dismissed as "irrelevant", rather than "wrong".

To overcome absolutism, you have to avoid "preconceptions", even if it's something you have considered before, and you will accept facts as they are found, and not demand they fit into your existing worldview that are simple and clear-cut. The world is full of shades of gray.


Relativism is the opposite of absolutism, in that everything is 'relative'. There is no pure evil, just as there is no pure good. There is no pure truth, just as there are no pure lies. Morality is subjective to a relativist. Like absolutism, this is pure... manure. There is evil in the world, just as there is good in the world.

However, there will be scammers, or sheeple (brainwashed by scammers) in arguing bogus positions like "Everything is a pyramid scheme", trying to compare their scheme either to legitimate companies.  (Companies are pyramid-shaped, which is NOT the same as pyramid scheme)

Another frequent "relativist" argument is "why don't you go after Social Security or the Stock Market or Federal Reserve", with the clear implication that those are "bigger frauds" than whatever alleged fraud that was being denounced, but it's clearly irrelevant.

A test for relativism is see if that attitude can be applied consistently throughout everyday life. If it can't, it's probably a relativist argument.

To avoid falling for relativism yourself, accept that in your exploration of ideas, some are clearly better than others, and it is through comprehensive, fair, yet critical thinking that we will arrive at the the better idea, just be open that there *is* a better idea out there.

Bias for or against Change

The only reasonable answer to "Are you for or against change" is "it depends". Some changes improve things, while other changes makes things worse. Yet many people seem to lack the perspective on what constitutes a "good" change. Some people want change "just to freshen things up", yet others are opposed to change just because "why change when it works".

Many of network marketing's arguments had been in the "bias for change", that person-to-person marketing will change the nature of retail... except they've been saying that for more than 20 years and it still haven't happened.

On the other hand, "bias against change" can also be used to justify keep investing in a scheme that is not (or no longer) profitable in the hopes of a "breakthrough", but that's better known as "loss aversion" (i.e. "but I'd lose all the effort I already spent for nothing")

Evaluate the change for its effect on you and others, not merely its possible effects, but also how likely are the effects to occur. Keep in mind that many illegal schemes that fraudulently represent themselves as legal will appear to be "easy money" that appears to be a "sure thing", but such things are likely to be mirages.


I hope you have enjoyed somewhat a minor lecture on errors in perspective. It is by making sure we are observing facts from a truly neutral perspective that we can gain proper insights to evidence, and perform proper evaluations of an opportunity. Any information you receive from an opportunity is likely to be biased if you failed to examine them from a neutral perspective you will likely fail to arrive as a proper judgement.

I hope to cover more critical thinking issues soon on this blog, so there will be more on this topic.

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