Personal development superstar blogger Steve Pavlina just tweeted that he is now promoting Eben Pagan’s DVD set, “Man Transformation.” (Link goes to Pavlina’s sales page for a 20-DVD course costing $436.50.) Pavlina seems to have become interested in dating advice right around the time he announced that he and his wife decided to have an open marriage and explore polyamory.
In his sales letter, Pavlina attempts to distinguish Pagan’s pick-up advice from that of “pick-up artists,” but the truth is that Pagan put himself on the pick-up artist guru map with his interview series “Interviews with Dating Gurus” that interviewed all the other pick-up artists which Pagan speaks very highly of, including our confused friend “Tyler Durden.” (UPDATE 9/21/2009: The Interviews with Dating Gurus series is included as an opt-out addition at $19.95 per month, with a free first month when purchasing Man Transformation.) Pavlina writes…
Man Transformation has a very empowering attitude throughout. This program is about men teaching men how to be more successful with women, not by tricking or deceiving women but by learning how to become more authentic from the inside out. [emphasis mine]
There’s my favorite word again! Of course to be authentic, you have to do it in the right, socially-prescribed, guru-approved way. You must be authentic like a “real man” is authentic, as in Pagan’s bonus DVD “The Real Man’s Guide to Money and Success.” Clearly you are not a “real” man unless you value—and have—lots of money and worldly success. To not be rich and powerful is to be emasculated, to be a woman.
Also a bonus is the original Double Your Dating eBook, where Pagan writes that powerful women are “secretly wanting a man that is in control of himself, his reality, and them” (pg 13 of the 2003 edition). It’s hard not to read “empowering” as clearly “power-over” in this context.
Pick-up artist Eben Pagan made his internet millions explicitly teaching men that women secretly want a man who is in control of them, and teaches tactics to secretly control women through sophisticated psychological manipulation. Why is this not regularly questioned by conscious people in our personal development community when we claim to investigate “limiting beliefs” and clarify our values on a regular basis? Do we all value patriarchy so highly that we’ve never examined the limitations of these beliefs and values?
Indeed, I think that there are many unquestioned gurus, many limiting beliefs that we do not seek to examine, and many values embedded within personal development teachings that we do not make explicit. In particular, we fail to examine those gurus, beliefs, and values that are held by those in positions of power: those of the wealthy, famous, and powerful. For what many of us are actually seeking through personal development is not maturity, nor wisdom, not true liberation nor even thinking for ourselves, but dominance over others, celebrity, and personal wealth—at any cost. Our personal development quests are far too often just quests to glorify our own egos, to bind ourselves further in the name of freedom, to worship our selves in our religion of one.
Think For Yourself DVD Course: Only $997 While Supplies Last!
Within our personal development community, Eben Pagan is always revered. Almost no one questions, “hey, do you think that his clearly anti-feminist view and the dating techniques that follow from it perpetuate violence, oppression, and objectification of women? And how might this view of women be related to Pagan’s extremely expensive and aggressive marketing systems that he uses to sell this ‘dating advice’? Does he believe customers secretly want to be controlled and dominated too, thus justifying overpricing and over-hyping one’s products to maximize his own selfish gain (because after all, that’s what customers really want)?” Perhaps this would be excusable if it were still 1950. But more and more, world-traveling college graduates are becoming personal development bloggers and selling internet marketing courses, yet nobody in our circles knows of sociology or feminism?
Eben Pagan has successfully created a (very slick) image for himself as a role model for how to be a man, and as a proponent of “conscious capitalism” (as Tony Robbins said in an interview with Pagan). A generation of men and women who are desperately seeking ways to navigate the ever-more-complex worlds of gender, relationship, and career are taking his advice on everything from dating, to how to structure their workdays for maximum productivity, and even how tall of a desk to purchase. (By the way, I used to co-host a podcast called Conscious Business. Mr. Pagan would not have made even the longest of potential guest lists.)
Pagan’s claim to fame is that his information product businesses—mostly patriarchal dating advice—make $20 million a year. With his 80 remote employees, this actually isn’t much money—it’s a medium-sized business. The self-image he projects is equivalent to that of Bill Gates, but even in the best possible light, Pagan is a small-time CEO of a medium-sized marketing company.
Eben Pagan and Tony Robbins are in the same Axis of Marketing Evil, hence their “friendship” (Robbins, like many charismatic famous people, uses the word “friend” as a namedropping device to associate himself with other famous people—who knows if they actually have any relationship beyond a single phone call). They both regularly use deception and confusion in the name of trust and authenticity in order to sell overpriced products. Pagan writes and speaks under the pseudonym “David DeAngelo,” chosen because the information product marketers believe alliteration sells more ebooks. Pagan has been teaching others this path to “success” with $3000+ marketing courses. Since Pagan sells such high priced courses exclusively through his own confusing websites, they get far less review and critique. You can’t find any of his books or DVDs on Amazon (except a handful of used copies), making it difficult for consumers to judge whether the products are worthwhile, and removing all public criticism. Also, charging a lot for a product with manipulative marketing creates cognitive dissonance, reducing critique and creating cultish ingroups and vicious but uninformed outsiders. (UPDATE 9/19/2009: The terms of service for “Man Transformation” prohibit reselling the product, or even watching it with a friend! This of course makes it nearly impossible to have any kind of critique or intelligent dialogue, thus minimizing consumer protection.)
Perhaps Pagan would say that we don’t question such gurus because we are castrated men who bow obediently to our masters? If only we had more expensive courses on how to be a “real man,” then we would have the balls (or ovaries) to question authority and think for ourselves! P.S.: Click here to sign up for my Think For Yourself DVD Course!
Since Pagan’s courses are so expensive and not available through regular distribution channels, no critic can say for sure whether his products continue to explicitly promote patriarchal values. But I can say that Pagan still has his original ebook “Double Your Dating” on the market, so he certainly has not recanted any of his old values publicly, unlike some other reformed pick-up artist gurus.
Psychopaths as Teachers of Right Living
Other “conscious capitalists” include folks like T. Harv Ecker, who teaches the cultivation of greed and the celebration of hegemony in his “free” introductory workshop (which is structured as a highly manipulative pitch for his very expensive advanced workshops). Ecker encourages workshop participants to scream things like “I love rich people!” as part of developing an irrationally exuberant “money blueprint” that supposedly leads to personal wealth.
Ecker is celebrated as a leader for right living and a “conscious” attitude towards money in many personal development circles. Almost nobody asks, “hey, might this excessive focus on wealth-seeking be unnecessary for or even contrary to happiness, as numerous positive psychology studies have shown and all religious traditions have emphasized? And might encouraging the poor to celebrate the rich solidify oppressive socioeconomic structures, keeping the poor from effectively organizing? And might this intense competition for limitless personal wealth—which Pagan also encourages—be in part fueling ecological destruction?”
An astute friend of mine went to Ecker’s Millionaire Mind Intensive seminar and caught him lying about something. He confronted him about it, and Ecker was entirely interested in how my friend caught him, showing no remorse whatsoever. In our culture, the psychopath—with his superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, manipulative behavior, and lack of remorse—is celebrated as the charismatic and caring leader, who is just here to help (for a price). I know a woman who has gone through all of Ecker’s trainings, including his “trainer trainer” training, and sadly she is now clearly much more poor and confused about money now more than ever.
And of course, we have con men like Tony Robbins, John Reese, and Frank Kern teaching people how to “authentically” manipulate and deceive customers to gain their “trust,” and almost nobody asks “hey, is lying to people really the best way to cultivate trust and authenticity in business? Is trying harder and being more certain of your success the best way to deal with a product that didn’t work? And is modeling the manipulative marketing techniques of known scammers really such a good model for the future of business online, or will this destroy all trust in the marketplace?”
Don’t Question My Limiting Belief!
Why don’t we ask these obvious questions? One reason is that when one questions in this way, almost immediately some people respond with one of two criticisms: either “who appointed you as the ultimate judge of morality?” or some form of “it’s easy to be a critic/why not say something positive.” (Ironically, almost none of the respondents seem to realize that their criticism of criticism is contradictory.) These responses show the social rules of personal development culture—questions of ethics, sociology, and critical thinking are not allowed when they question the norms set by the power elites.
The wonderful focus on positive thinking within personal development gets corrupted into silencing dissenting views. For all the talk of finding your own way and thinking for yourself within personal development literature, there are very clear (if unstated) rules about what constitutes acceptable dialogue. We speak of questioning limiting beliefs and finding your own values and authentic style, but if you question the accepted beliefs or have differing values from the libertarian and patriarchal, your questioning and values will not be tolerated. Our “authenticity” and self-inquiry only skims the surface, never deeply questioning the values and power structures of society. Certainly criticism can easily devolve into cynicism. Ironically, this is more likely to happen within groups that do not allow for criticism, for when criticism is not heard and integrated, the individual often feels powerless and gives in to cynicism.
Of course, outside of our circles, there are numerous dismissive articles in the NY Times and elsewhere about our gurus and practices. Outsiders have no trouble at all seeing some of the more obvious problems of personal development and self-help.
Only when we open to questioning our gurus and collectively limiting beliefs can we find anything resembling the kind of freedom we claim to be seeking. If we are to truly live in integrity with our claims to radical self-inquiry, of finding our values and authentic selves, then we must also question the power elites within our own communities. We must find channels for much more wide-open dialogue where such questioning is not silenced with aggressive demands for positivity, or else resign ourselves to be slaves of the unquestioned gurus.
UPDATE 9/21/2009: Steve Pavlina emailed me upset about this article and a post I put in his forum. He banned me from his forum and deleted a post of mine that linked here that he considered “link baiting” (I thought my post was respectful and professional). My post was within the guidelines of his explicit forum rules, which I had read before posting (this was not my first post to the StevePavlina.com forums). If I could do it again, I would not have included any links in my forum post, now that I know that this is an unwritten rule of his forum.
I was surprised I was banned for life with no warning, but of course Mr. Pavlina is entitled to ban people from his forum for whatever reason he chooses. In my response to his email, I apologized for my link. The contents of this blog post seemed to have upset Mr. Pavlina, so I wanted to clarify a couple of things just in case anyone else interprets this post similarly.
I did not mean to insinuate that Pavlina engages in manipulative marketing like Pagan, Robbins, Kern, and Reese. Pavlina’s sales pages for affiliate products have always been very straightforward and honest, something I appreciate about how he does business.
I do not know Pavlina’s views of women, dating, or relationships as he hasn’t written much of anything about these things on his blog. I was not criticizing his views of women, since I don’t know what they are. Pavlina claims that Man Transformation has only a few speakers that one could consider patriarchal, and for the most part is about building up men and not tearing women down. (This could still be problematic in terms of promoting patriarchy if it is about cultivating dominance by becoming “alpha,” however. Benevolent and “authentic” patriarchy is still patriarchy.)
Again, I can’t speak to the specifics of this product at all, as it is far too expensive to me to justify purchasing a review copy. I am more concerned that Pagan continues to sell all of his old products, including the ones that clearly promote patriarchal and even misogynist values, and even includes one such product as a bonus to this DVD set, and another set of interviews as an opt-out subscription. This indicates to me that Pagan’s current views are in all likelihood still consistent with his old products that were explicitly about sexual dominance of women through the use of sophisticated psychological tactics. I am also very concerned with the manner in which these products are sold (manipulative marketing, confusing private websites, no-reselling policies, etc.) which are bad for consumer protection and public debate of the materials. I am most concerned about power and patriarchy, and what happens when we lack public debate about them within our personal development circles.
I should also explicitly state that I often use the 1st-person plural “we” etc. when criticizing a view because I am included in my critique to some extent. So when I stated things like “Our personal development quests are far too often just quests to glorify our own egos, to bind ourselves further in the name of freedom, to worship our selves in our religion of one” that includes my own personal development quests, my own binding myself in the name of freedom, etc. that I have been guilty of again and again! This is the all the more reason for having an open dialogue instead of a closed guru-worshiping community. I understand if Pavlina does not want to have such an open dialogue on his website.
Pavlina is of course entitled to his own opinion, which he posted today as the very long article Free Speech in Online Communities: The Delusion of Entitlement. I am concerned that this rant will increase cultish groupthink in the StevePavlina.com forums, for even fewer will risk pissing off Mr. Pavlina for threat of being permanently banned without warning.
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