Of all the articles on my site, The Flaw in Network 21′s Value Proposition gets the most traffic and comments, and seems to stir up the most emotional responses. After reading through my previous post and all the comments, I thought I’d unpack a little more of why I see its value proposition to be flawed and actually harmful for society. This applies more broadly to multi-level marketing in general, and not just to Network 21, but Network 21 is a very good, practical example for many people.
Money and Freedom
To begin with, let’s think about the role of money in society. Money allows us freedom from people we don’t know. Generally, in close relationships such as family relationships and deep-spirited friendships, we interact and exchange things with each other in a different way to how we would with strangers. I know that my parents wouldn’t call the police on me if I took a bit of food from their fridge without asking – I would also most likely feel indebted to them in some way as to want to repay them, but most of the time it would be by way of replacing the food for them. There’s a bond of trust between us that allows us such freedoms.
If I had to go to a grocery store, however, there’s not a chance I would just take something from the fridge and walk out with it without paying for it. Apart from it being fundamentally against my values to steal from others, even if I could allow myself to try to take something, the security guards, checkout assistants and security cameras would pick up my taking the food and one of them would rush out to tackle me and take me to jail (and rightfully so). The trust relationship we have with others is quite different, and is generally dependent on force through law.
In such an instance, I have to give these little shiny pieces of metal and paper to the person at the checkout counter, and then I can walk out with the food with the security guards’ blessings. There is no fundamental value in money except the value that we attach to it, but that doesn’t mean the value that we attach to it is negligible. What’s important is that we attach value to it, not that it’s intrinsically worth anything (except perhaps coins for unscrewing large screws, and notes for burning for warmth and cooking during periods of hyperinflation).
So how does this relate to Network 21′s value proposition? I don’t doubt for a second that Network 21 could potentially be giving people “discounts” on products and services by allowing them to purchase things online. Apart from the fact that there is only a limited number of people who would buy into this scheme, and so when the “pyramid” of willing people runs out the whole thing will collapse, what I do take issue with is the fact that, for most people, the only people they’ll sign up at first will be their friends and family. Whether your “discounts” come back to you in the form of kickbacks/finder’s fees, it doesn’t matter. Effectively, their friends and family will be paying them their monthly earnings through an independent, faceless third party: Network 21.
Mixing trust relationships such as friendships and family, and non-trust relationships facilitated by money, is always a dangerous and tricky business. We always run the risk of damaging our deep-spirited relationships by treating those people as if they were strangers – this is why I believe Network 21 is toxic for the average person. Our instinctive desire for our closest relations, if we’re capable of being genuinely vulnerable and loving them, is to put them in the best position possible in life. In general, excluding people who would abuse such freedoms and damage themselves, people who love their families and friends will want them to have as much freedom from strangers as possible (i.e. money or money equivalents in terms of the freedoms strangers will afford them), and not suck up the collective family/friendship circle’s pool of money for themselves, even if they’re only taking a trickle feed that allows them an extra couple of fancy restaurant visits with the wife every month.
Other more charismatic people in Network 21 might perhaps avoid getting their personal networks involved in the scheme, but would it be ethical to do so to less charismatic people who aren’t capable of only enlisting strangers and would be prone to getting their families and friends on board? I think not – hence my writing this article about it and being willing to put my money (and reputation) where my mouth is.
The All-Important Emotional Response
Long ago, when someone I considered to be a friend first introduced me to Amway and before Network 21 even existed, my instantaneous emotional response was to distance myself from that friend. I had exactly the same response when a distant family member phoned me up to invite me to a Network 21 seminar him and his wife were running at their house. Prior to that, with him being an accomplished businessman with a very high-ranking corporate job, I had immense respect for him. That respect has since diminished somewhat and I don’t feel that I can trust them any more. Needless to say, I didn’t attend the seminar at their house. The mere fact that they were involved in it and indirectly indicated to me that they wanted to exploit me was enough to break our familial bond of trust.
There’s something underneath this scheme, something indirect, that says: “I want to take advantage of you for my own gain”, and that’s toxic to relationships. You can try to package it in as pretty a way as you like, and try to logically convince people that they’ll benefit through it too because they’ll get discounts and they can build their own “asset”, etc., but at the end of the day, real love in deep-spirited relationships gives, in vulnerability, without any hope of getting anything in return. People have an innate way of detecting give-in-order-to-get people from a mile away, and usually have no qualms with closing themselves off to those people.
Do you really want to isolate yourself from others? Do you want strangers to isolate themselves from their closest relations? Then join the Network 21 cult (let’s call a spade a spade here).
Otherwise, go and start a real business of your own and create some real value for you and your loved ones.
Tag Cloudamerica branding business capitalism complexity consumerism conversations cooperation corruption democracy emergence fear freedom gadgets holism incentives leasing marketing market segmentation mass marketing mead metaphysics of quality narrative nature of work network 21 philosophy politics postmodernism power process quality questions racism scary social constructionism social influence spam strategy sustainability symbolic interactionism systemic perspective terrorism trends truth validity