This post originally began life as an email exchange between a friend and I shortly after the Project Mohave Liberation Manifesto was released on May 15, 2009. Project Mojave is essentially a get rich quick scheme led by Clay Collins of the blog Finance Your Freedom (formerly the Growing Life). The project encourages its subscribers who pay $97 per month to find an expert in a field, create an information product with them such as an ebook and to sell it for $47 on the internet. The manifesto itself was written as a marketing tool for Mohave by Jonathan Mead, a personal development blogger and marketer who writes on IlluminatedMind.net and also as a guest writer on the ubiquitous ZenHabits.net. I have followed Jonathan’s blog, projects, and other social media identities for almost as long as he has been writing. Illuminated Mind began as a spiritually minded blog that explored simple Buddhist-like concepts and was critical of both productivity and personal development. However, over the past year the blog has changed into a guide to “become free” through a variety of “unconventional” methods, much like the ones highlighted later on in this post.
In this post I argue that through the manifesto Mead posits the reader as a slave to their work and society, and then offers them new-found freedom via the Project Mohave pay-site. This model does not work in a sociological sense for a very basic reason: it isn’t sustainable in any realistic way. If everyone in society subscribed to Mead’s “freedom,” we would all be selling digital products on the internet, with no one to grow our food, fix our plumbing, or treat the ill. I then expose the manifesto for what it really is, a sales pitch under the guise of a political and economic savior. This critique takes the form of a loose rhetorical read, in the sense that I use the tools of postmodern rhetoric to explore the messages that the manifesto sends to its reader, and asks why those qualities are persuasive. I’ll generally go at this manifesto in order as it lays out its arguments. I suggest you briefly read the manifesto first, and then come back and read my response to it, you can get it here.
On Hard Work and Enlightenment
The most striking thing about the first page, is how it immediately posits the reader as a slave, or a lesser than, and puts the author in a sort of “enlightened state,” as if they have great knowledge to endow on the reader and can move “from slavery to freedom” (3). This evidenced by Mead’s second paragraph, and then the preview of emancipation in the third. This tells us two things, first that you should hate your job and it is a prison, and second that he has the keys that will let you out. This does not consider the possibility that the reader actually loves their job, and has a good relationship to the company that provides it to them. In many ways, this is a classic rhetorical act, by demonstrating the author to be an authority, they build trust with the reader, and the message can then be consumed much easier. It is also well known to be a brainwashing method, by creating a sense of dominance over another, one can force them to follow an ideology without fail. This positioning is very interesting by virtue of the fact that in the beginning of this year Meade wrote a blog post entitled “Enlightenment is Overrated,” where he opened post with the claim “I admit it. I am Enlightened,” he went on to completely ignore most of the Buddhist ideas about what enlightenment is, using enlightenment as a tool to explain to his reader that they should live their dreams, and to live “life more fully, passionately and fearlessly.” This all leads up to Mead’s slightly less spiritual belief that the internet changes the political and business landscape, and that NOW is the time to get in by starting your “freedom business.”
Going After Marx and Engels
Mead jumps into some really light political philosophy where he talks about Marxist power structures in a very uninformed manner, and then he positions the Internet as a savior when he writes; “the difference between now and before is the internet is opening up massive opportunities for the everyday entrepreneur” (4). As if “before” refers to pre-internet class struggles, harking back to a work of pseudo-inspiration for Mead: the Communist Manifesto. On the following page he offers that this is the path to “freedom,” and that you the reader have the choice right now to be free. In many ways, section reminds me of a quote by a cyberneticist who said ‘the internet isn’t the wild west anymore, it has long been established. The internet wild west was in the early 90’s.’ Another relevant anecdote is,”the people who made money on the gold rush, were the people who sold equipment to miners.” And so it was for the internet also. The internet and technology as a whole being our savior is an idea that has been around for quite some time. Our society has become quite ingrained with the idea that the problems our progress has created, will invariably by solved by progress itself. This idea is one that makes very little sense in the way it is expressed on a widespread scale, yet it is very much at play in the ideology that Mead is selling in the manifesto. The internet will save you if you let it.
Jonathan: The Romantic, The Marketer
Mead then goes back to talking about why working for someone else destroys us. I’ll skip over most of this because it is just trying to do more of the same, convince the reader that they need change, and that this particular project is just the way to do it. Revolution is an ideologically and rhetorically charged word that I’ve noticed Jonathan use often, simply because it is sort of romantic, it is powerful, and it changes minds. Through this section, it becomes clear that Jonathan knows how to manipulate people. I plan on exploring Jonathan’s notion that working for someone else is “soul-raping” (from Mead’s about page) in a future post.
In section three, Mead talks about meaning. I love this line, because it contradicts the most obvious premise of the whole project (make money), “No amount of money, cars, swimming pools, private jets or company paid luncheons can make up for that” [in reference to making meaning]. From here, we talk about more of the same, changing our lifestyles, making money, meaning, and forming a community of new-rich meaning makers. “Our ultimate mission is to break down that social belief-structure of limitation and drudgery.” I’m not really sure that those social belief structures actually exist, but after reading this manifesto, one might come to think so. Skipping to the end, we get to the best part. All of this awesome pump you up to get involved in our “revolution” rhetoric culminates in a simple call to action, “join us” (28). The perfect sales letter. No price, no indication that it costs anything, in fact I would think that this were some sort of holistic community of entrepreneurs who would gladly welcome me into their arms for free if I didn’t know better. Mead gets them hooked before they even know what they are into.
The Manifesto that Could Have Been
This manifesto could avoid many of these problems if it weren’t for the fact that it has a massive asterisk hanging over it. Simply put, it is a sales letter for an expensive membership site. It sets up the reader perfectly, putting them into a corner, a poor American worker chained to their bourgeoisie corporation, slaving away for the betterment of the elite. But wait! We can save you, we can show you how to make your own money (ultimately selling sketchy information products on the internet). The missing piece here is simple; the system simply does not work that way. Not everyone can be a mini-retirement-taking entrepreneur. Everything would fall apart. The question remains, how can Tim Ferriss’ Indian virtual assistants have their four hour work weeks? Mead talks on end about making meaning and “freedom,” but the fact remains that this information and freedom is not free. I cannot think of a single revolution in history that required the beneficiaries to pay a corporation for their freedom if it was legitimate.
This is a huge gap in the whole manifesto’s argument: it is made of the same stuff it claims to be trying to save us from. One corporation taking our money, time, and whatever else claiming that they will make our lives better. This isn’t a freedom revolution, it is a sales pitch. This demonstrates Mead’s approach to Project Mohave, he tells you that he really wants to save you from some massive problem you don’t realize that you have, yet deep down, he always really just trying to sell you something. In many ways, Mead emulates Tim Ferris’ work in the Four Hour Work Week, except he tries to sell his life-hacks via some sense of profound social emancipation. The worst part is he really believes it will free people.
My next post will explore why this freedom is likely to be impossible.
Powered by Facebook Comments
Tags: Enlightenment, Four Hour Work Week, freedom business, get rich quick, Illuminated Mind, job slavery, Jonathan Mead, liberation manifesto, marketing, personal development, Project Mohave, social emancipation