June 17th, 2002

default, pepper

A cheerful thought for Monday

"[Young's] experience with the ugly side of beautiful people disabuses him of his affection for shallowness. It's not just incorrigibles who long for something better than the breathless mainstream sideshow culture. Celebrity worship may never go out of style, but perhaps alienation is coming back in."

-- Michelle Goldberg, reviewing "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" by Toby Young

(No, I'm not intending to be ironic in calling the thought cheerful.)
default, pepper

Be financially independent!

I've just come back from a sales pitch at a financial company called Primerica. They called it an "open house" for potential employees--but they were trying to sell us on positions, like you'd expect from a multilevel marketing company.

Now, you may ask, "Why were you there?" I was there because somebody from Citibank, the company that owns Primerica, called me last week and said they were looking for people with my background. She didn't say it was for Primerica, and she didn't say it was for a sales or "ownership" position.

So now you might ask, "Why were they looking for people with your background?" I have no idea, cause this sure wasn't no IT position, pardner. Honestly, I had a suspicion about this before I went--but hey, being a nice guy, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

In return, they gave me about an hour-long presentation by a group of people who came across liked used car salesmen. The pitch was all about money. "Financially independent" to these guys means you have a net worth of a million or more. Their tone was condescending at best to the other 95% of us. I've never been subject to a pitch whose message was so clearly "and isn't money all that matters?" You make all your money at the place on commissions paid on other Citibank services you sell to people who are getting "free" financial needs analyses from you ("what other companies would charge at least $1000 for," they say).

And they had the gall to say, "the beauty of this is that we're not salesmen." This while they made a point of using everyone's first name in the middle of their canned routine. ("Now on this slide, ____, you see that...")

But at least their examples were chauvinistic, and for all the talk about the amazing money they're making, it struck me that the "slides" were transparencies on an overhead projector. Their regional vice president or whatever the hell his title was isn't equipped with a generic laptop and PowerPoint?

So why did they target me? My cynical suspicion is that they figure that people looking for work in the IT field right now are particularly desperate. I wrote down snarky notes on my Visor while I was listening (such as "like Amway for financial planners"). One of the first things I wrote was, "makes me want to be bohemian."

And it's true. Sure, the Primerica droids were right in some ways--I do want to be "financially independent." But this is kind of like politicians taking a stand against crime. You start with something obvious and then wend your way off to la-la land, whether it's the blind acceptance of stupid drugs laws as a solution (to what, exactly), or the blind acceptance of the "only 1% will be wealthy when they retire and only 5% will be 'financially independent'" as the just, good and indeed inevitable consequence of the American way. They talked about helping people become debt-free as being Primerica's business, but the clear message was "you want to be in that 5%"--not "you want to expand that 5% to 10%," let alone something radical like "you want to change the underlying assumption that if 54% of a society's members end up dead broke after a life of work, it's their own damn fault." (Again, that figure came from their own presentation--as did the assertion that it was their own damn fault, although they put it slightly less baldly. Only slightly.)

This is the sort of thing that makes me more inclined to sell everything I own but the PowerBook and the car and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity--or try to get a job as a park ranger in some very obscure, rarely-visited national forest somewhere.