This blog is a continuation of my investigation into the South Africa-based cult known as Desteni. This organization, which uses conspiracy theories like "reptilians" and the "New World Order" as one of their marketing tools, is somewhat unusual among conspiracy cults. While many cults are devised as money-making opportunities and even structured as business enterprises--Scientology, for example--Desteni is somewhat unique in that it advances itself and its ideology with a "multi-level-marketing" scheme. It is this specific aspect of the cult, which is called the "Desteni I Process," that is the subject of this article.
What is Multi-Level-Marketing?
Before we begin, it's important to understand what multi-level-marketing ("MLM") is. It's a somewhat questionable business model
where a product or service is sold via a network of salespeople, often called distributors, who supposedly make money by selling the product or service and then collecting a cut of everything sold by the distributors they recruited. Does this sound to you like the definition of a pyramid scheme? It is.
Here's an example to demonstrate how it works. Let's say I run into you at a coffee shop and tell you about this great new soap I found. Acme SuperSoap®™ cleans everything. I can't stop raving about it. I tell you I have a couple of bars in my car and I'm willing to sell them to you. You buy some for $1 apiece. The next day I call you up and tell you that in addition to the great product itself, I'm getting rich by recruiting others to sell Acme SuperSoap. You eagerly sign up, and you start selling Acme SuperSoap yourself. But you have to buy all the soap that you sell from me. I pocket 20 cents on every bar you buy from me. But I also collect a commission on bars you sell to your friends, which you have to buy from me first, and the bars that they sell to their friends, which they have to buy from you. Theoretically we both get rich as Acme SuperSoap takes the world by storm. If one of your friends who you recruited opens an Acme SuperSoap franchise in Beijing and manages to sell a single bar to every man, woman and child in China, we're instant billionaires, and we live happily ever after.
The biggest MLM business in the world is Amway, which most people have heard of. They began in the 1950s selling--guess what?--soap. There are now thousands of MLM schemes out there. Some are legal, and some aren't. But they all function pretty much the same. (Note: Desteni is not affiliated with Amway).
Why doesn't MLM work?
The above example should illustrate to you why MLM doesn't work in the real world: the model functions on the basis of infinite expansion, and there just aren't enough potential recruits out there to result in big money for more than a very few--and very lucky--distributors. How many people do you personally know who would really be that interested in becoming a soap distributor? Even if the product you're selling is reputable and a good product, because the MLM model emphasizes recruitment of distributors more than the selling of products, what money there is to be made doesn't come from sales--unless of course you're Amway or Acme, the ultimate source of all the products these eager distributors are trying to recruit each other to sell. Keep this point in mind because it's crucial to understand the Desteni I Process.
These days MLM is everywhere. I will bet that virtually everybody who's reading this blog right now has been hustled by a friend, acquaintance or total stranger trying to rope them into an MLM scheme. You might think that the ubiquity of these schemes means people are making big money at them. You'd be wrong. The vast majority of MLM participants, even in Amway, lose money on the scheme because they end up buying more of whatever products are being sold than they sell, and because they don't end up recruiting many distributors. My dad has been in Amway for years, and he's never made a dime. The main thing that keeps MLM schemes going is hope: hope of making money, of retiring with some big bank, and hope that is kept alive by motivational tapes, books and videos that themselves form the basis of a separate for-profit industry that clings to MLM schemes like pilotfish on a whale. This is certainly the case with Amway, where most of the money that's being made comes from the sale of motivational materials by Amway distributors to other Amway distributors, trying to bolster their spirits and keep them participating in the scheme.
I have described MLM as a pyramid scheme, and it is. However, I'm not using the term "pyramid scheme" as being synonymous with "illegal pyramid scheme." Whenever they are criticized for their MLM business model, for instance, devotees of Amway--who often behave eerily like Desteni or Zeitgeist members insofar as devotion to their faith is concerned--will proudly state, "We're not a pyramid scheme. That's been tested in court!" Well, actually what's been tested is whether Amway is an illegal pyramid scheme. I think Amway is very spurious, but it is legal, as are other MLM schemes you may have heard of, such as Mary Kay, Prepaid Legal and others. They may be legal, but it doesn't mean they're not pyramid schemes, nor does it mean that they're entirely on the up-and-up, as I will demonstrate here. (Not knowing the laws of South Africa, where I assume the Desteni I Process business is based, for purposes of this blog I assume that it is not technically illegal).
What Does Desteni Have To Do With This?
Desteni's take on MLM is unusual. The MLM components themselves are extremely unsophisticated; it's a very classic bare-bones verison of an MLM scheme. However, Desteni combines their MLM scheme with some of the more esoteric aspects of their cult, thus playing on a curious mixture of their followers' spiritual, personal and financial motivations.
Here's how it works. Step one is, you sign up for the "Desteni Self-Development and Leadership Course."
Supposedly this course takes you through Desteni's indoctrination material on YouTube and Facebook and will show you how to "understand your inner world" and "peel off the layers of self-deception." You'll learn how to talk, think and act like a Destonian, and presumably at some point you'll be asked to shave your head and you'll be exposed to Desteni cult leader Bernard Poolman's bizarre rants about reptilian conspiracies. Oh, did I mention this course will take you four years to get throughand will cost you €200 a month, in addition to your initial €100 registration fee? (Oh, I should say, right now Bernard's running a special--if you sign up during July you can get a break and pay only €100 a month for the first twelve months. This is all on Desteni's website. Yes, you read that right: the entire Desteni Self-Development and Leadership Course will cost you a total of €9700 over four years (€8500 at the sale price). At today's exchange rate that's a whopping $13,826 ($12,115 at the sale price). These calculations are from prices freely available on Desteni's website. (http://desteniiprocess.com/pricing)
Oh, one other thing: you can't get a refund. The Desteni site is very clear that once you pay your money, it's theirs. Refunds will not be granted for any purpose whatsoever. So if the Self-Development and Leadership Course isn't working for you, you can quit, but you don't get any portion of your money back.
So, once you're on board to cough up nearly $14,000 to watch YouTube videos about Hitler and learn to masturbate without looking at porn, step two is, you begin recruiting others to get into the cult. According to Desteni's website, you get paid €40 per bald head, per month, to whom you manage to sell the Desteni Self-Development and Leadership Course. Assuming your recruits are as eager to spread the word of Desteni as you are, they get their own €40 per head per month, and you get an additional kickback of €50 on the recruits-of-your-recruits. There are bonus rounds after that too. Indeed the Desteni website proudly trumpets that, if you recruit ten new Destenians, they in turn each recruit ten, and each of those ten themselves recruit ten more, you can supposedly earn €125,400 per month from Desteni. That's the equivalent of making about $2.1 million a year. This idea--recruiting ten people who recruit ten more, who themselves recruit ten more after that--is the "mathematical equation" and the "mathematical certainty" of success that you will hear Destenians, and especially Bernard Poolman, refer to when they talk about the Desteni I Process.
But how realistic is this? Do you know ten people who believe in reptilian conspiracy theories, are interested in channeling Hitler and L. Ron Hubbard through an interdimensional portal and who aspire to drop Esctasy on a farm in South Africa? Even if you are (un)lucky enough to know one person who might fall for Desteni's shtick, are they willing to be locked in to spending $14,000 over the next four years to join Poolman on his bizarre reptilian odyssey? As you can see from this, the chances of making even one successful sale are extremely remote. In order to even break even on what you'll be spending on the Desteni self-improvement course you'll need to have recruited at least five people who will go in it with you. The vast majority of Amway distributors aren't even that successful, and Amway is selling soap, paper towels and things that people actually use in the real world, not reptilian conspiracy theories and strange masturbation techniques. I would hazard a guess that your chances of making a single cent of profit from the Desteni I Process are virtually nonexistent--unless your name happens to be Bernard Poolman.
Yeah, what about Poolman, anyway? Where is he in all of this? Every pyramid has an apex, and in Desteni, Poolman is clearly sitting right on top of it. He is not only the unquestioned leader of the Desteni cult, whose followers literally believe he can do no wrong, but he's the one making the ultimate profit from every Desteni self-help course that gets sold. While we can't know the inner financial workings of the Desteni business, it's safe to surmise that it has very little overhead; the Destenians themselves do all the work by spreading the cult's message through YouTube videos, Facebook and their ubiquitous blogs. At $14,000 for each course, with very little overhead and very few distributors with whom to share the percentage, my guess is that Poolman earns the lion's share of every Euro, dollar and rand that goes to purchase anything Desteni-related, and the best part is that he doesn't need a large base of followers to keep this income stream going. From his perspective--and his alone--Desteni would seem to be a very stable and profitable investment.
But Muertos, Isn't This Just Your Opinion?
I can hear the recriminations of the Destenians right now: "This is just your opinion--you haven't offered any proof that the Desteni I Process doesn't work!" You need not take my word for it. My conclusions are based on a simple but reliable formula for evaluating MLM schemes developed by Dr. Jon M. Taylor of the Consumer Awareness Institute, who has conducted the most exhaustive examination to date of the economic structure of MLM schemes. Dr. Taylor's website (http://mlm-thetruth.com/)
is a one-stop shop if you have any questions about MLM schemes. Based on his research, here are a few highlights from Dr. Taylor's conclusions about the MLM structure in general:
"MLM programs (MLMs) typically sell "pills, potions, or lotions" or other products that have unique appeal and promise to deliver benefits not available elsewhere....One sees a strong sense of belonging, or an "us versus them" cultish mentality.
MLMs depend on unlimited recruitment of a network of endless chains of participants, and advancement up the levels in the program is only possible through recruitment of a pyramidal organization of participants, or "downline."
As endless chains, MLMs assume infinite markets and virgin markets, neither of which exists in the real world. MLMs are therefore inherently flawed, unfair, deceptive, and profitable only for those at or near the top (top-level "upline", or "TOPPs", for top-of-the-pyramid promoters) - who are often the first ones to join.
Worldwide feedback suggests that MLMs are also extremely viral and predatory. MLMs quickly spread from state to state and often to vulnerable foreign markets.
MLMs typically finance their operations from purchases by participants who are incentivized to buy products to qualify for commissions and to advance to higher levels in the pyramid of participants. With the possible exception of some party plans, the majority of sales are typically to participants."
Got all that? Cultish mentality. Those are Dr. Taylor's words, not mine. Downline is a term you will find on the Desteni I Process website. The "TOPP" term used here perfectly describes Bernard Poolman. Vulnerable foreign markets--like South Africa. The majority of sales are typically to participants. We could have predicted that just by looking at the structure of Desteni.
Just to be sure I can back up my assumptions, I put the Desteni I Process to the test via the very handy 5-step evaluation of MLM schemes on Dr. Taylor's website. This simple evaluation is designed as a tool for people who have been approached by MLM promoters to determine if they're likely to make any money. Let's go through the steps one by one:
[Red Flag # 1]
"To build your business, are you required to recruit people into any kind of downline? Would you as a new recruit, by permitted and even encouraged to recruit other participants, who would in turn be encouraged to recruit still others, and they still more, etc. - from whom you could collect commissions and /or bonuses on what they buy or sell?"
In the case of the Desteni I Process, the answer is, absolutely yes. This is very explicit on the website.
[Red Flag # 2]
"Advancement in the hierarchy of participants is not achieved by appointment, but by recruiting more and more participants into a downline, or pyramid of participants."
Again, this describes Desteni exactly. The hierarchy is based totally on who recruits who. Desteni uses the term "downline" which is an MLM buzzword, and I have demonstrated here how Desteni is clearly a pyramid scheme.
[Red Flag # 3]
"In order to "play the game," or qualify for commissions and advancement, do participants have to buy a minimum amount of products or services, either at the outset or in ongoing purchases or monthly subscriptions?"
Clearly, yes. On the page that describes the Desteni I Process pricing, it makes clear that you can only get paid for your "downline" if you yourself have paid the fee for that month's installment of the course (the €200 monthly fee). Again, no question that this describes Desteni.
[Red Flag # 4]
"Does the company pay more in commissions and bonuses to upline participants than to the person making the sale?"
Yes. This is also made clear on Desteni's website. Supposedly you get a €50 fee for each recruit that your recruits get into the cult--but your own recruits only get €40. That means there's a €10 premium for recruiting new members who themselves will recruit others.
[Red Flag # 5]
"Does the company pay overrides (commissions and bonuses) to distributors in a hierarchy of more than four levels?"
Examining Desteni's website, it appears the answer to this is no. I counted four levels of distribution, not five. According to Dr. Taylor, five levels of distribution is a classic hallmark of an abusive MLM scheme. Desteni seems to have scraped by this one under the wire, so we'll give them this.
Clicking "yes" on the first four red flags but not the fifth, here's the result I received. After a huge red box that says "WARNING!", there is this text:
"The compensation plan for this MLM company triggered 4 out of 5 red flags!
Extensive research reveals that with at least the first 4 of these five red flags in an MLM compensation plan, approximately 99% lose money....If you find all five (or even just the first four) of these red flags in a compensation plan, then the MLM program could be considered a recruiting MLM, or exploitive chain selling program (translation in many jurisdictions - "pyramid scheme") in concept, structure, and effects. This would be true regardless of quality of products offered, type of compensation plan, company policy regarding recruiting, or any other efforts of company officials to make its program appear to be legitimate. The primary emphasis is on deriving income from recruitment, with insufficient incentives to sell products or services to the general public."
Wait a minute...why is Desteni pushing a MLM scheme anyway? I thought they were working toward a future of economic equality with their "Equal Money System"!
Yes, it's true--the very existence of Desteni's MLM scheme is a contradiction. One of the marketing hooks of this cult is that they claim to be advocating for something called the "Equal Money System," which is a basic guaranteed standard of living for all people on Earth. Naturally, everyone on Earth, once the Equal Money System, comes into being will be able to live the way millionaries do now. This is sort of a half-assed version of the already severely half-assed "resource based economy" that is pushed by another cult in the conspiracy theory business, the Zeitgeist Movement.
So what gives? Why, if Desteni wants to equalize the Earth economically, are they pushing a get-rich-quick scheme? Well, in classic cult doublespeak, Desteni leader Bernard Poolman claims that by making everyone rich through the Desteni I Process, Destenians will eventually use their money to buy political clout to change "the system" over to the Equal Money System. Curiously, there's nothing about this on the Desteni I Process webpages; you have to drill into Poolman's endless series of YouTube sermons in order to appreciate this point.
Astoundingly, I found one video by Poolman where he makes a claim that I guarantee you won't hear from any other huckster of an MLM scheme. He says that the Desteni I Process will make you rich--but you'll eventually have to give up your riches once Desteni's Equal Money System is instituted. Yes, you heard that right. This MLM scheme will make you rich, but then you have to give it back.
It's right here in this video. Poolman says:
"[If] you stick to the mathematical equation which you will be explained in detail you will become quite wealthy in the next ten years. That is quite a journey to walk. But remember by the time the Equal Money System is coming in to place, you will be required to give up your wealth. But be not afraid, because in the Equal Money System there will be wealth for everyone. There will not be a poor being on Earth, and the wealth that was was never wealth in fact, it was only used to manipulate systems, and we will use it to manipulate the system into equality."
Astonishing. An MLM scheme that promises you will have to give up all the money it's going to make for you. Somehow I doubt that Amway or Mary Kay will be adopting this approach any time soon. Then again, Amway and Mary Kay aren't weird belief systems based on conspiracy theories and New Age concepts, either.
Putting this piece into the broader picture that is Desteni, what emerges very clearly is a larger pattern of misleading statements, psychological coercion and outright deception by a group that seems to have few scruples about the techniques it uses to attract new members. A cult that exerts such tight control over its followers, and bases its ideology on concepts as fringe as reptilian conspiracy theories and interdimensional portals, would be suspect by itself. But add to this a very misleading multi-level-marketing scheme which is virtually guaranteed not to make its participants money, and you have yet another reason to treat this organization with the skepticism and distrust that it so richly deserves.
Thanks for reading.