Today I’m going to tell you a secret; it’s called The Secret.
Successful people don’t want you to know The Secret, but I’m going to share it with you. Once you know The Secret, you’ll have everything you ever wanted in life – money, love, success, fulfillment – in the palm of your hand.
Are you interested in a life of wealth and love and abundance? If so, here’s my offer: for just $2,400, I’ll give you access to the Thumotic Life Transformation Program, which consists of four Webinars, an ebook, and a one-hour Skype coaching session. You’ll also gain access to the exclusive TLTP Membership Site For Winners. This is such a valuable opportunity, I can’t believe I’m giving it away for such a low price.
Here’s the best part: Once you complete the course, you’ll be authorized to market your coaching services as an official Certified Thumotic Life Coach. This is a business opportunity that will generate millions of dollars in passive income for the rest of your life, as you certify new CTLCs and empower them to change lives with the TLTP.
This is an amazing opportunity. It’s the chance of a lifetime. I’m just a generous fool for making it available at this low price. Are you ready to sign up? Just enter your credit card information below and we’ll get started:
Name____________________ # ________________ Exp Date ___________
This is a real pitch that people actually fall for. I know, because I watched it happen.
Debbie the Success Coach, in a $100 pantsuit and JC Penney jewelry, is delivering a presentation on The Secret To Unlimited Wealth to a rapt audience of a hundred or so. Debbie is here to share her story and some teaser content from her program, but this is just an introduction. True Enlightenment requires access to Debbie’s Webinar series and ebook.
So who is Debbie? Let’s rewind a bit.
The year is twenty-twelve. Recently divorced and unemployed, Debbie had no money and was on the verge of bankruptcy. She was sick. Her credit was shot. Her dog died. She kept trying new business ideas and failing, as if held back by some invisible force. Then one day Debbie finally decided she’s ready for success, and so spent $7,000 on a coaching program with her new mentor, also a Success Coach. Debbie has no idea how she’s going to pay for it, but she maxes out her credit card and has faith that everything will work out. Lo and behold, Debbie believed in herself enough, and she’s now the proud and wealthy owner of her very own Success Coaching business.
Debbie knows what it’s like to feel lost and afraid, but she encourages us to keep our spirits up:
“Often it’s darkest right before the dawn. When I signed up for the program, I didn’t have money to pay rent . But I believed in myself. I believed in my own success.”
Debbie half-laments, half-brags that she’s drifting away from her family and friends, as a necessary step in her adoption of a Success Mindset. Her loved ones are nice people, Debbie assures us, but they’re caught in the negativity and self-limiting beliefs of mainstream society.
At one point Debbie literally pulls out a few $100 bills, spreads them into a fan, and brings them to her face while making kissy-kissy sounds: “Part of a Success Mindset is admitting to yourself that you love money.” The rest of the audience seems to lean forward, hungrily eyeing the three-figure sum.
Debbie’s Webinars feature, as far as I can tell, a whole lot more of Debbie talking about Success. The Webinar is much better than the fifteen-minute appetizer she’s delivering tonight, she explains. It doesn’t matter if you’re broke, jobless, in debt – this program is the way out.
Debbie’s performance is theatrical to the point of absurdity, but there’s not a trace of irony in the building. She closes with an emotional crescendo:
“I know some of you here today are on the verge of incredible success. I can feel it. You just need to purge the doubt, believe in yourself, and adopt a Success Mindset. If that’s hard to do, just remember where I was. I had no money. I had no plan. The people in my life didn’t believe in me, and tried to hold me back. I could have given up, but I didn’t, and how here I am.”
Confederates start walking down the aisles, distributing pens and sign-up forms on high-stock paper. Debbie continues, overcoming unvoiced objections:
“You need to believe in yourself, and believe in your inevitable success. There will always be friends and family who aren’t ready for a higher form of consciousness. I know it hurts, but if you want success, if you want wealth, you can’t let them influence you.”
Debbie scans the room, confirming that everyone has a pen in hand. She smiles and presses on: “Now, let’s all do an exercise in Success Visualization. Even if you’re not going to sign up for this course right now, I want you to write your name and payment information on the sheet and imagine participating in this course, The Secret To Unlimited Wealth. Even if you don’t have the money right now, don’t worry, this simple visualization exercise can still have an amazing effect.” In the end, I count at least seven people hand in their forms.
Debbie is the closing act. We also heard pitches from an herbal supplement pyramid scheme; an obese woman with a self-published book on visualization, manifesting, affirmations, and learning how to love yourself; an unemployed single mom who wrote a book about self-acceptance and finding happiness despite whatever trials of poverty and bastardy you may face. We closed with a guided meditation session led by a local spiritual wellness coach. She also has a Webinar.
As Debbie wraps up, the seated audience disperses for hor d’oeuvres and mingling. Vendor booths (from which vantage point your correspondent has been observing this show unfold, hoping that you, the reader, will have given me enough credit to wonder what circumstances led me here) line the outer perimeter.
In the booth next to mine is a shameless and well-known herbal supplement pyramid scheme staffed by a pair of sharply-dressed middle-aged men. A third man approaches the booth and is invited to sit down. The mark is a middle-aged African wearing a cheap black suit, brown loafers, aggressively non-matching shirt and tie, and a fedora, worn indoors, that looks like it came with a toy gun and Sherrif’s badge in the Wal-Mart toy aisle. He’s leaning forward, nodding obsequiously, taking notes. The effect is as cartoonish as it sounds.
The two sharks deliver a well-polished pitch, handing off to each other with the easy timing of television news anchors. They use the word ‘opportunity’ a lot. The mark explains in broken English that he’ll be the best supplement and vitamin-shake salesman the sharks ever saw, and he’s so grateful for the chance to join their team. They shake hands, a credit card comes out, and paperwork is signed.
In case you’re not familiar with pyramid schemes, here’s what happens next: either a) the hapless fool will waste money he can’t afford on an expensive lesson in how to protect yourself in a low-trust society (likely) or b) he’ll be a quick learner, and make a career out of selling dreams to people who trust him. If the latter, he will not only learn but internalize the positive-thinking, feel-good, ‘opportunity’-laden tropes of the Success Cult, partly because it’s in his sales script, but also because he genuinely believes it. Why wouldn’t he? It worked for him.
For the visual learners, here’s an example of how these businesses operate. Watch this video and look into the owner’s eyes. Do you believe that he believes himself? The best liars always do.
This is the sad world of America’s most promising high-growth industry: the formation, management, and liquidation of quasi-religious movements designed to transfer wealth, status, and social capital from the naïve to the cynical. Debbie’s event was my first close-up look at the Success Cult sub-culture, an insulated world of gullible and unsuccessful losers, buying and selling each others’ books, webinars and live conferences.
The actual products aren’t important. Diet supplements, money-making schemes, and exploitation of wannabe-entrepreneurs are the most common. What matters is the common dream they sell: happiness, financial security and a flat stomach. Humans aren’t complicated.
The most successful of these schemes appeal to more than the victims’ greed. They must, because greed is rational. A truly effective get-rich-quick scheme has to provide a quasi-spiritual cognitive framework which allows member to rationalize their indoctrination as something greater than commercial interest. That’s how you create a truly powerful money-making movement. That’s how you create a cult.
A Memetic Exegesis Of Cults
Are you a member of a cult? Of course that’s a silly question. If you knew, you’d recognize it and leave.
Cults are designed to minimize the ability of followers to experience such epiphanical moments of clarity. Consider how specific tenets of a cult-like memeplex can wall off avenues of likely exit. For example: friends and family are a common vector of doubt, thus the frequent exhortations to be cautious of their negativity as memetic vaccination. Debbie’s Success Cult warns members to resist the pernicious influence of low-consciousness friends and family who might try to lead them astray.
Another example: the general lionization of Positive Thinking as a broad-spectrum antibiotic against any loss of faith. If you doubt Debbie for any reason, you’re merely trapped in a self-limiting belief, which you must learn to overcome, no matter how many Webinars it takes.
Yet another: you must demonstrate your faith in yourself, by making hefty investments in your self-development (i.e, purchasing expensive motivational conferences and ebooks) or else you don’t have a Success Mindset, you don’t truly believe that you’re destined for wealth, and you will remain poor indefinitely.
The cruelest epi-meme, anchored so effectively by Debbie’s story of debt and redemption, is that It’s Always Darkest Right Before The Dawn, and you really should max out your personal line of credit at 20% APR for all of this.
As I’m watching the carnage unfold, I try to take comfort in the knowledge that I don’t belong here. I’m not one of these people; I just signed up for a booth at something billed as an entrepreneurs networking event, to sell some legitimate business services (N.B., which reasonably-priced services none of these entrepreneurs can seem to afford, Success and Abundance Mindsets notwithstanding). But as much psychic distance as I put between myself and the audience, I’m still deeply ashamed to be here. It’s more than just an empathic cringe of compassion. A man is defined by the company he keeps, and I’m spending this afternoon with some of the most intellectually and spiritually desolate human beings in the history of our species.
You can learn a lot about people by watching how others communicate with them. Debbie’s carefully-crafted presentation implicitly tells us everything we need to know about how she perceives her audience. For example, here are a few assumptions implicit in various aspects of Debbie’s sales pitch:
- The audience is impressed and enticed by the physical presence of the few hundred dollars cash Debbie uses as a prop.
- They are impressed by Debbie’s bragging about recently purchasing a house (of unspecified size, location, or value) as if entering the propertied class is proof of uncommon riches, rather than a token available to your typical Burger King assistant manager with good credit.
- They are not savvy enough to experience any cognitive dissonance between Debbie’s claimed ability to manifest unlimited wealth, and her middle-class lifestyle, Powered By Wix™ website footer, and sartorial misfortune.
On the surface, Debbie is all about Positive Thinking and The Success Mindset. She approaches her audience like a good friend and caring mentor, excited to help guide them through whatever temporary darkness they’re trapped in. Debbie loves each and every person in the room, and she knows deep down they’re all special people with unlimited potential. But her presentation accidentally reveals her true estimation of them, which is that they’re a bunch of complete fucking losers.
Only an idiot, or a smart person in a temporarily idiotic state of mind, would ever sign up for a cult like this. Cult leaders know this, and they tailor their communication accordingly.
Have you ever received an email regarding a trapped Nigerian prince, hot sexy single ladies from your neighbourhood, or an exciting new pill that will add six inches to your dick? These well-known scams are often riddled with obvious and deliberate spelling and grammar mistakes. They are literally incredible, because they are designed to appeal to the credulous.
It would be trivial for the spammers to hire someone on Fiverr and make their emails ring true. So why are they written in a way that makes intelligent people recognize them as bogus? The answer is that professional spammers want to drive away everyone but the dullest and most credible of mooks. Midwits might pry for more information, talk to saner friends, and come to their senses before pulling out a credit card. By sending out an initial email that’s as stupid as possible, spammers ensure they only invest time in patsies foolish enough to make it through to the end of the sales funnel.
Another example of marketing aimed at the lowest common denominator is the sort of ad generally found on populist conservative news websites (Warren Buffet Predicts Economic Collapse; Five Signs Cancer Is Growing In Your Body; GNC Approves All-Natural Testosterone Booster; etc) which are clearly targeted at clueless and senile older folks. If curiousity compels you to click on ads like this, you’ll find yourself in a funnel of emotionally-charged squeeze pages designed to separate lonely, demential retirees from their fixed incomes. The products themselves (usually over-priced ebooks rehashing the most generic of investing, dietary, and cancer-prevention advice) barely matter. The real art is in the elaborate and ruthlessly optimized content funnel leading up to the paid product.
Condescension As Design Aesthetic
The commonality in all of these examples, and perhaps in all communication whose goal is to manipulate rather than elevate and inform, is condescension. Cult leaders and marketers with no respect for their clients all adopt the same tone of talking down to their audience. Commercially-motivated condescension is the most meaningful of insults, because it cannot be motivated by a desire to hurt or score rhetorical points. It can only be genuine.
This is what really irks me about listening to Debbie and her ilk. It’s not her crappy product or grating personality. It’s her condescension to the audience, of which I’m a member, and the implicit insult to my intelligence. She’s addressing me like I’m half-retarded, and by standing here and listening with a blank face – whether out of politeness, lack of courage, or because I also want to make some money off these people and I’m willing to play along if that’s what it takes – I’m complicit.
Here’s an exercise for the reader: Are you confident in your ability to recognize when you’re being condescended to? Can you think of any other communities or subcultures that have adopted the marketing tactics and communication style of the Success Cult? You’re probably sharp enough to see through Debbie, but what if you’re a sucker for some less-obvious charlatanry?
Have you figured any of this out yet, or am I going to have to sell it to you in an ebook?
Thesis: The Red Pill blogosphere has been taken over by shallow internet marketers who are, at best, indifferent to any of its sociopolitical foundations.
Some think this is a good thing, that the Red Pill is outgrowing its vestigial association with alt-right politics, and is now free to reach its true potential as an apolitical community of autistic bodybuilders endlessly discussing the relative merits of Being Motivated Vs. Not Being Motivated, communicating exclusively in list format, and selling each other ebooks. These blogs are written by smart, cynical men with an internet marketing background, who recognize the Red Pill community as a massive potential cash cow.
Here’s one example: How To Beast
The author is a smart guy. If you’re interested in copywriting and content marketing, his site is a well-executed case study. But the goal of his site is not wisdom or artistic worth, it’s the prompting of an emotional high that leads to clicks and purchases. It’s Buzzfeed for men who lift weights and talk to girls, written and designed for the meaty middle of the bell curve.
There’s nothing wrong with creating for the masses, but doing so is ultimately incongruous with any pretense of the Red Pill being a community of men aspiring to greatness. How To Beast is a great site for men who lack the depth and focus to acquire knowledge unless it’s gift-wrapped and spoon-fed, but it has no place in a community of men seeking to elevate themselves.
Here’s another: Freedom and Fulfillment
Freedom and Fulfillment gives his readers more credit than most. I hesitated to call him out here, because his blog is smart, he covers a lot of topics that I’m interested in as well, he is honest and forthright about his affiliate relationships, and I think he might really be interested in writing a blog that helps people.
But (of course there’s a but) he’s also trying to sell you a $1,000 membership site about building a drop-shipping business. He might claim the product is worth every penny. He might even believe it. He might tell himself a little story before he goes to bed every night about how he’s not actually selling his soul every time he cashes in a new affiliate commission. But his sales page tells me everything I need to know about his character, and how much he respects his readers:
Throughout university I had always been interested in making money online. I had experimented with different things but it had never really gone anywhere.
After I graduated I was set on generating an online income for myself, but didn’t know how to go about it. The problem wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to work hard—it was that I didn’t really know where to put the effort in.
I wished that there was some sort of structured opportunity to make money online that I could just “put the work into”.
I then heard a podcast featuring a guy who was living in Thailand and living off his eCommerce business. He had learned about eCommerce through an online course called Dropship Lifestyle. I visited the DSL website later that day, and I had a feeling that this was the opportunity I had been looking for.
In truth, I had more than just a feeling. It might sound crazy but I actually knew for certain that this was my path to online income. I was 100% sure that this was my “ticket” to making money online.
I wanted to register right away, but was hesitant because it was a big purchase for me at the time. I was a broke student and the only money I had was left over from student loans. I decided that I would sleep on it and decide the next day.
The next day, I remember I was walking back to my apartment after playing soccer with some friends and actually thinking to myself: You have to do it.
This was a big moment in my life (having just graduated university) but I somehow knew that this was the right step to take. Not only was I fully convinced that I needed to register for the course, but more importantly I was certain that I needed to work on it as hard as possible to become successful with it.
(Do you immediately recognize this sort of language as a blatant attempt to win your trust, relate to you, and sell you something you may or may not need? If not, chop your credit card in half and stay off the internet for a while.)
Freedom and Fulfillment is an instructive example because, unlike the other two, he does a very good impression of a decent guy. It’s the Law Of Sewage: A drop of wine in a barrel of sewage makes sewage; a drop of sewage in a barrel of wine also makes sewage. F+F ultimately shows how one small decision to cash in on gullible readers can poison the well of trust.
Lastly: see this Return Of Kings Sponsored Post, in which the owner of an online fitness empire reveals that he’s just a regular fella, Red Pill devotee, student of the crimson arts, long-time-listener-first-time-caller, who just happens to have a $100 upfront / $60 per month membership site teaching gullible high school outcasts the secret to six-pack abs:
You might know me from YouTube as the #1 most subscribed fitness trainer. Or you might have even watched a video on my sixpackshortcuts channel.
But here’s what you probably DIDN’T know…
I’ve been a daily reader of Return Of Kings since 2012. Before that, I used to be your average frustrated blue pill chump. I was actually on track to get married and to have kids with the crazy girl I used to date…lol.
But (thankfully) in 2012 we broke up, and that led me to finally question everything I’d been taught about women, masculinity, and the world. That led to me discovering ROK and finally taking the red pill.
I’ve personally learned a ton from ROK, and I think it’s safe to say I’ll probably save over a million dollars over my lifetime from learning not to spend ridiculous amounts of money on WOMEN. So I contacted Roosh to see if I could use my expertise to help fellow ROK readers…
I recommend you check out the sales page and video for the fitness program which Mike Chang, philanthropist, has been given the opportunity to promote on Return of Kings.
Am I worked up in a moral lather over Chang’s cynical exploitation of gullible young men? Not really. My point is that any self-respecting man should feel embarrassed to associate with this kind of sales pitch, or anything that even faintly resembles it. It’s low-consciousness, it insults your intelligence, and if you don’t recognize the insult, it’s because you deserve it.
And this problem isn’t limited to entryist new blogs. Even among Red Pill writers with a nobler raison d’etre than selling ebooks and get-rich-quick schemes, there’s been a shift toward shallow, simple, monetizable, lowest-common-denominator pablum. The Manosphere has become a commercial rather than artistic enterprises, and many of our blogs became stylistically indistinguishable from get-rich-quick scheme hucksters and hundred-dollar six-pack abs products. Thumotic was one of the worst examples, hence the guilt and self-loathing fueling this sprawling five-thousand word post.
Condescension manifests in more than just text; just as Debbie sub-communicates her disrespect for the audience via a sales pitch that a twelve-year old would roll her eyes at, a blogger’s design aesthetic says a lot about the type of reader they’re speaking to. Consider a few examples of stylistic decisions, and the beliefs they imply:
- Aggressive and omnipresent email opt-ins -> “You’re too stupid and unfocused to remember to come back to my site, so I desperately need to get your email address, lest you click away and get lost in the attention-sapping vortex of Buzzfeed and Tumblr. ”
- Prominently-displayed ads to affiliate links and the authors’ own books -> “I want your money. Also, you’re a child, so I have to dangle something shiny in front of you to get your attention.”
- Elaborate long-form squeeze pages with emotionally-charged language -> “I want your money. Also, you are foolish and impulsive, so I must sell to your fears and insecurities rather than earn your trust and make a logical case for the value of my product.”
- Short articles broken up with excessive paragraph breaks, sub-headings, and bullet-point lists -> “You are functionally illiterate. I must hold your hand and walk you through my thoughts, or you’ll leave my site to read something with animated gif images.”
In the special case of bloggers who write about internet marketing, there’s a level of irony that softens the blow. An internet marketing blog (such as Copyblogger) must conform to its own stated best practices, and serve as an example of the techniques it advocates. The result is a layer of wink-nudge irony that acknowledges the readers’ savviness and insusceptibility to the hard sell, while still making the hard sell. “I know this sales funnel is condescending, and I know you know it, but we’re talking about the finer points of building condescending sales funnels, so let’s just play along.” It’s similar to how movies like Pacific Rim can be appreciated as effusive character-driven robot opera by the hoi polloi, or irony-laden self-parody by self-identified sophisticates.
Anyways. These stylistic decisions all show the author’s disdain for you, the reader. They also show the author’s disdain for himself, and his estimation of his ability to hold your attention in long-form prose. I don’t think this is necessarily a conscious decision writers make; the mediocre always outnumber the exceptional, so writing more accessibly (i.e, stupidly) tends to move the needle in terms of pageviews and conversions. Writing for the average is easier, more profitable, and (because the average are more prone to obnoxious hero-worship) more ego-boosting for bloggers. It’s no wonder many take this path.
“But it works!”
This, the appeal to efficacy, is the ceterum censeo of internet marketers: squeeze pages increase conversion rates; pop-up forms increase newsletter sign-ups; short, simple posts with lots of sub-headings increase time on page. It’s all true.
But maybe there are better goals out there than views and affiliate commissions. Maybe the best practices of an industry built on shallow exploitation of transient dimwits aren’t always applicable to a social and political movement composed (ideally) of the most intelligent, literate, introspective, politically conscious men of our generation. Maybe we’re playing a different game, with different rules.
How to save yourself from a cult
Here’s a quote I truly believe has the power to change your life:
Let the youthful soul look back with the question: what have you truly loved up to now, what has elevated your soul, what has mastered it and at the same time delighted it? Place these venerated objects before you in a row, and perhaps they will yield for you, through their nature and their sequence, a law, the fundamental law of your true self. Compare these objects, see how one complements, expands, surpasses, transfigures another, how they form a stepladder upon which you have climbed up to yourself as you are now; for your true nature lies, not hidden deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you normally take to be yourself.
Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator
I wrote this post because I realized that at some point, Thumotic stopped being something that elevated me. None of the people I consider heroes would be impressed with what this blog has become: generic ‘life-hack’ advice; affiliate links plastered across every page; emotion-priming sales copy designed to elicit purchases from naive teenagers, who came here looking for a masculine role model, and left with an ebook I made a 75% commission on.
This blog – and the Red Pill community as a whole – is at it’s best when it aspires to novelty, depth, and artistic grandeur. It recedes into mediocrity when it tries to compete with internet marketing scumbags for the cud-chewing masses. We exist because young Western men need a smarter, better alternative to a mainstream culture that’s trying to destroy them. That’s one hell of a mission, and it’s time we became worthy of it.