Friday, December 25, 2015

How a MLM cult is like ISIS, and how to defeat both of them

A recent episode of NPR's Hidden Brain that talked about terrorism, and how does the psychology of radicalization work, got me thinking, as the cult psychology of ISIS shares many similarities with cult psychology of a MLM cult, and this new angle to take on how a cult gains control over its members provides some very interesting insights into how it works, and some idea on how to combat it.

How is ISIS like a MLM Cult?

ISIS is like a MLM cult in that they entice members into self-destructive behavior by convincing them they are doing it for the greater good.

According to Scott Atran, an advisor to UN and the White House as anthropologist, explained that most ISIS fighters genuinely believe they are fighting for a "great cause", i.e. establishing a Caliphate, and generally it is the people in their 20's that were enticed by promises of glory, adventure, and purpose. They also believe that world is a disasterpeaceful change is not possible, self-sacrifice is honorable, ends justifies the means, and utopia is possible. ISIS recruit by leveraging idealism in naive young people already ostracized from society.

Now think about how MLM cults leverage a very similar mindset... MLM cult believers genuinely believe they are building a better world by spreading the "great product and great opportunity" among the masses. Many MLM cult believers do believe they cannot succeed in a regular job market. Indeed, that is a mantra often repeated in MLM cults, like "J.O.B. = just over broke" and so on, and MLM promises glory (recognition for accomplishments), adventure (travel all over, often exotic places) and purpose (spread the gospel of prosperity). There's also belief that traditional job CANNOT allow one to be financially secure, and utopia (financial freedom) is possible. In many ways, MLM cult preys on idealism of people who can't get a regular job (often through no fault of their own) and ostracized from society.

So to summarize:

  • Both ISIS and MLM cult tell followers to believe in a great cause
  • Both ISIS and MLM cult promise followers glory, adventure, and purpose
  • Both ISIS and MLM cult tell followers world is a disaster
  • Both ISIS and MLM cult tell followers existing ways do not work
  • Both ISIS and MLM cult tell followers utopia is achievable
  • Both ISIS and MLM cult leverage idealism in people  

It's scary how similar they sound, if you break it all down and get to the core message.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Breaking News / Woo Files: Nu Skin Taiwan head accused of illegally importing medical devices

News from Taiwan via Malaysia, original Chinese and English translation provided. (Thanks to JusticeAlwaysLate for spreading this bit of news)

台灣.新北市18日訊)在馬來西亞、新加坡和汶萊都設有分公司的著名直銷公司美商如新華茂(NU SKIN)台灣總裁姜惠琳與多名幹部、高階直銷商,涉嫌明知產品“BODY SPA機”是未獲衛生機關核准輸入的醫療器材,仍在2012年間從香港帶1萬多套回台販售,獲利約1600多萬元台幣(下同.約210萬令吉)。新北地檢署昨依違反《藥事法》等罪嫌,起訴姜女等31人。
(Taiwan, Taipei Dec 18th) Well-known direct selling US company Nu Skin, with branches in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, has its Taiwan CEO Huilin Jiang, along with several officers and high level members accused of knowing that the product "Body Spa machine" is an "not permitted as import" medical device, yet brought back over 10000 kits from Hong Kong for sale in Taiwan, profited over 16 million NTD (almost $500000 USD). Taipei Public Prosecutor's Office has now officially charged 31 people, including Ms. Jiang, with violations of "Drug Regulation Act". 
Nu Skin is founded in the US in 1984 and operates via direct sales of cosmetics, and is now in 54 markets around the world. Taiwan branch was established in 1992, and Ms. Jiang took over as CEO in 2007. Nu Skin Taiwan was a sponsor of the 101 building New Years Fireworks and festivities 2013. 
全案起因於前年,一名林姓賣家在網路上販售號稱能緊緻肌膚的“BODY SPA機”,被檢舉未經核准,林到案供稱是向如新直銷商購買後,獲緩起訴。
The case started three years ago. A "Lin" advertised a machine online for sale called "Body Spa" that claimed to tighten muscle tone, and was investigated as the device is not legally permitted for sale without Taiwan FDA approval. Lin cooperated with investigators and said he got the machine from Nu Skin reps and had his case continued. 
不過檢調追查,發現衛生署早在2011年,就曾以未附安全證明文件等理由,禁止如新進口“臉部SPA機”,但姜惠琳仍在同年底,未申請主管機關核准,就另外核可BODY SPA機行銷策略,由如新的寰宇領袖、藍鑽級主任等高階直銷商,向下線會員推銷,稱可向海外預購BODY SPA機,然後趁集團在香港舉辦大中華區年會時領貨。
Further investigations show that the Taiwan FDA had denied Nu Skin's import of Body Spa back in 2011, due to various reasons including "no safety documents included". However, Ms. Jiang went ahead, later in 2011, and approved sales strategy of Body Spa kits by (Cosmo?) leaders, Blue Diamond level execs, and such highest level members to be promoted to lower level members, claiming that the high level execs can pre-pay for these new machines and stock them overseas, and everybody can pick up their stock when Nu Skin held their convention in Hong Kong later. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Scam Psychology: Idiot's Guide to Idiocy... and how to avoid it

It is very often in scam psychology that the victim refused to accept that they have been victimized, and they often square off against the critics. However, here are some questions they should be asking themselves... Are they *really* arguing best evidence... or merely best "intentions"?

1. What exactly are you arguing for? 

Often, proponents of a scheme have very different arguments. The ones I've seen are:

(Scheme name) is [mostly] legal!
(Scheme name) pays me [and that's good enough for me, never mind legal!]
Go pick on some [bigger evil] and leave (Scheme name) alone!

Some folks even managed to do all three at once.

But think about it, only the first item is a real "defense" of the scheme. The other two are tacit admissions that the scheme may indeed be shady, if not outright illegal.

2. Are you arguing or merely denying? 

There's a big difference between arguing, and denying.

Arguing means both sides present their best argument, and analyzes the other side's argument for flaws.

Denying simply means you insist that the other side is wrong, wrong, and wrong, without analysis.

Don't see the difference? Watch this comedy skit "Argument Clinic" courtesy of Monty Python:

3. Does your argument SOUND weak? 

A lot of scheme defenders, when trying to defend certain potentially illegal parts of the scheme, end up sounding like a whiny cat, because their argument end up as...

"But you don't *have* to do that... It's optional."

For example:

"But you don't have to recruit more sellers (It's just that you make more money if people you recruited also recruit more sellers)"

"But you don't have to buy stuff every month (If the people you recruited buy enough so your "group volume" qualifies you for commission)"

Now repeat that in a whiny kid's voice, and you'll see how weak that argument was.

It's also a bogus argument, because it's tacit admission that the scheme has at least one potentially illegal / amoral component. It's roughly equivalent to "I smoked (pot) but I didn't inhale".  That's a VERY weak argument.

4. Are you arguing from "might" or "meek"? 

Are you using "might" or "meek" for your arguments? Or just whatever that suits your argument? Are they even relevant?

Many promoters often invoke bandwagon fallacy (i.e. X people joined, Y amount of money spent, Z celebrities endorsed, etc.) That's the "might".

Many promoters adopt the "meek" attitude when they whine about government persecution, conspiracy of rich, and so on and so forth.

They are NOT relevant! Those are WEAK arguments! Find better ones!