I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business. — Henry David Thoreau
‘Imagine if you made a hundred thousand dollars per month. How would your life be different?” David regarded me with a wary eye. It was Sunday morning, so we were seated in our armchairs, alternating between reading the New York Times spread out on the coffee table between us and surfing the net on our laptops. “Imagine making three thousand percent returns on your investments using never-before-revealed techniques!”
“What is this, email from Nigeria?” David asked.
“No, it’s an invitation to join the Global Information Network. It’s from a friend, which is the only reason I bothered looking at it. But wait, it gets better.” I read from my laptop screen, “‘You can now join a worldwide private group that can virtually guarantee your success in life.’ Clever, that cover-your-ass usage of the word ‘virtually.’ Anyway, here’s the clincher: ‘The law of attraction is just one tool that can be used to create whatever you desire in your life.’ It’s like the Secret all over again. Gravity, now that’s a law. Attraction? Not so much. That’s an abstraction.”
“Smacks of scam,” David said.
“No shit, right? This invitation to join an ‘elite society of billionaires’ reads like the ‘pretty please, I’m begging you to come’ invitations I sent out for my tenth birthday party after arriving in a new city with no friends. If it’s so ‘exclusive,’ why the hard sell? It says here I was ‘hand-picked.’ Was that the hand that hit the ‘send to all button?’ I mean, they have a Facebook page on which they ask anyone who sees it to join.”
David rolled his eyes and returned to reading an article about microblogging. The spam-ish offer had bumped me from my usual Sunday news-sifting trajectory; in moments I had launched my own little investigation of the organization behind it. My parents were suspicious New Yorkers who strove to prepare their daughters for a harsh world in which predators actively hunt patsies. My mother reminded us daily to trust no one. My father often recited the idiom, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Each evening, he also read aloud clippings from the news, after which he’d commentate about how this girl’s life might have been saved or that guy’s car might not have been stolen had the victims been more world-wise. The underlying belief system I came away with: if somebody bends over backwards to “help” you, chances are they want something in return and that they intend to benefit more from the deal.
When I lived in West Hollywood, a friend dragged me to an introductory meeting for the large group awareness training (LGAT) program known as Landmark Forum. In a histrionic seminar reminiscent of a scene from Yes Man, an auditorium full of mostly unhappy people were commanded, in a tough-love sort of way, to take control of their lives. The speakers were sometimes inspiring, sometimes annoying, but overall I was glad for the experience. While true that my friend’s life and mood had drastically changed — he smiled more, he started working out and eating well, and he established healthier modes of communication with his family — I was uninterested in paying $500 to “get to the next level.”
Upon leaving the auditorium, I had been pestered into giving over my contact information. Big mistake. For weeks, I received phone calls from pushy Landmark representatives, asking me when I would be “ready” to take the next step. At first I tried the polite approach. But when I said, “Now is not a good time,” I was countered with, “It’s never not a good time to live a better life.” And when I said, “I don’t have the money,” I was harassed for being too weak to “invest in myself.” The last phone call I received ended with my pointedly stating, “I will never, ever, ever join, so lose my number or I will file a restraining order.”
The offer now before me promised wealth, health, and happiness beyond my most improbable dreams. My first order of business was finding out just how much the genie in the bottle expected in exchange for granting my every wish. After a few clicks, I learned the “initiation” fee was $1000 and “membership” $150 a month, with a stipulation that the monthly fee would be automatically deducted from whichever card was provided. Also, as part of the “membership agreement,” I would be obligated to sign-up a new member every month. Assuming a single member fulfills this obligation and that all her recruited members are successful in fulfilling their monthly quotas, in just one year’s time the original joiner would have been responsible for 8190 new members. In two years and four months, the membership of the club will have exceeded the population of the United States. And then, just four months after that, the entire population of the world — every man, woman, and child — would belong to this “exclusive” club. I was inspired to dig deeper.
Global Information Network, called GIN for short (how debonair), was founded in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean, which also happens to be among the 35 nations blacklisted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development because they were said to be “non-cooperative in the campaign against tax evasion and money laundering.”
While reading GIN’s website, I smiled to myself when I came across the line, “The privileged class has NO right to hide the truth from the masses,” as it was followed by an entire paragraph seducing would-be members with the lure of joining the very same kind of privileged class they had just disparaged: “This is your personal private invitation to become a member of one of the world’s most exclusive private wealth-building organizations,” and, “You now have the chance to be an insider.”
The invitation read like a vendor hawking his wares on the street; repetitive and assertive, with carefully placed clarifiers like “almost” before “guarantee.” I have a nose for bullshit, and this reeked. I don’t doubt the sender’s claim that membership has made a “huge impact” on his life. I am happy for him, really I am. But do I want to pay $1000 plus $150 a month in perpetuity and then hustle to convince everyone I know to join so I can learn what kind of impact? No.
One of the catchphrases in GIN’s pitch (all declarations made on their site, by the way, are effectively negated in the Terms and Conditions fine print) is how new members could, in 90 days from being approved for membership, be making more money than they “ever thought possible.” If being members makes my friends happy, that’s great. If it makes them rich, even better. I just hope they don’t get burned.
If there’s anything I learned from my parents, it’s that success is generally the result of a lot of hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise, in my father’s vernacular, is simply blowing smoke up your ass.