Pyramid Schemes to Community Circles
Language is a technology that carries with it the potential to awaken as well as ensnare. The stories we tell about our world are constructed through the language we use. The limitations of our language limit our stories, and by extension, limit our reality. When we view language as a static, objective, and definitive tool, we forget that it is in fact a tool – something that we have the ability to evolve as we do. Language is constantly changing this recognition enables us to consciously direct its evolution.
New words enter our vocabulary as we discover others are outdated, inaccurate, or inadequate to describe experience. This expansion of language can be used to expand and awaken individuals to new possibilities and solutions; new ways of thinking. Recently, I have also realized that this new languaging can be used to ensnare people right back into their old way of thinking. There are many instances of old stories, as they begin to fall out of the collective psyche, being repackaged with the “new cultural language”. Whether or not this is done intentionally, the result is that people can feel as though they are making positive change, when in fact they are operating from the same destructive story they were before. This “repackaging” is easily illustrated in marketing – companies are essentially selling the same product, they just tell us a different story about it so that we feel as though it is new.
A Community Pyramid
Where this story repackaging has hit home for me is with my recent exposure to a multitude of “pyramid schemes” that use language involving building community and circular flow of money. I am saddened when I am approached by people who are legitimately passionate about helping others and building community, yet are going about it in a way that is essentially a pyramid scheme. I am told that the business is not a pyramid scheme, that the financial flow is circular, that it can bring in money for the community, and that the money is already being spent – this company simply redirects it through another channel to support individuals within the community.
How is it that someone can be telling me about this incredible company that uses a “circular flow” to support community, and not a pyramid scheme, when they turn the page of their manual and show me a diagram of a pyramid? It is easy to “repackage” the story with language that covers the truth. Questions are what dissolve lies and reveal truth. Find out where the money is going and you will discover the “shape” of the business. If you recruit friends, will you receive a cut of their sales? Will the person who recruits you receive a portion of your sales? How are the people at the top making their money?
A financial pyramid is essentially how our entire economy works, thanks to interest. Interest bearing debt has demonstrated throughout history (Rome, Mesopotamia, etc.) a resulting extraction of financial wealth from those at the bottom to those at the top controlling distribution. This is a whole topic on its own, however what we call a “pyramid scheme” is a smaller representation of the whole.
Dig Below the Surface
One “pyramid scheme” example I have come across is a company that has secured lower rates with various service companies (i.e. cell phones, utilities, etc). When someone signs up for their services through this intermediary company they are able to receive cheaper rates. It seems like a win-win situation – the customer receives lower rates and the sales agent/friend receives a portion of the money (redirected flow that is already being spent). At the surface we are saving money and helping a friend financially. However, to discover what this example is really telling us, we have to look under the surface. The age of intermediaries is coming to a close and local group purchasing power is being discovered.
It is arguable that there is not really anything “wrong” with what the company in my example is doing, I am simply asking if there is a still a more community supportive way to do it. The company is essentially removing the need for its partner companies to spend money on marketing by exercising the discount power of large groups. As long as there is still money going to people in the company “higher up the pyramid” (wealth extraction), then there is still money to be saved by the community supporting the pyramid.
Our planet is now connected like never before. We can communicate information nearly instantly and our established distribution networks enable us the effortless transportation of physical goods. This is the peer-to-peer (r)evolution. We no longer require the intermediaries, provided we are willing to participate more fully in our community.
Now enter in a new community concept: group purchasing discounts. Infinity Foods (website will be up soon) is one such initiative being started in Calgary. Its mission is to bring high quality, local products to communities at low prices by removing the need for “middlemen”. Initially this has started with supplying food, however it can easily expand to include most products we purchase, from toilet paper to fuel for our vehicles. A huge portion of our product cost goes to for-profit multinational retail outlets (wealth extraction). Why not gather a large group (community) of people who are already buying the same products, and simply go to the sources ourselves? It is a move towards re-localizing economic activity – buy from your community, with your community. Keep the circle as a circle, not a pyramid.
The ideas I am discussing do require more involvement and participation on an individual level than most of us are used to today. Often our initial reaction to this extra “work” is aversion – we hardly realize that this involvement is exactly what we are missing in our lives. It is a return to the personal, to the intimate, to a large web of relationships, to a world where we know all points around the circular flow. Our culture operates and views the world through a linear lens, often only concerned with our finite point along the line. Our individual and collective impacts extend and are interwoven with all others along the circular flow of life. Circles illustrate how outputs become inputs whereas a linear approach leaves out a fundamental connection at either end.
As we incorporate new language into our collectively evolving story it is essential that we learn to question the foundations of each chapter. Is the new story simply a rewording of the old? Why is the old story falling apart and does the new truly address the causes of breakdown in the old? We learn to evaluate stories by discovering the consequences of living by them. A true warrior is open to the idea that all of their stories are going to change.